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26 November 2012

Here comes the rain AGAIN

Well, talk about good timing! Of all days to visit an interactive installation titled, ‘Rain Room’ at London’s Barbican I happen to pick one of the wettest days (and this will come as no news) of what has already been an exceedingly wet year. On Wednesday 21st at six in the morning as I walked to catch the bus to London it was raining, it proceeded to rain the entire journey on the bus, it rained on my way from the tube station in London to the Barbican and then when I got there I then queued, yes queued for forty-five minutes to go stand in a room in which it was raining. But in the funniest, craziest and most ironic of ways, I have to honestly say, it was GREAT!
What’s difficult is to detach the experience of viewing this work from the sheer comical absurdity of the experience of waiting in line to see some rain when it’s pouring down outside.  You find yourself thinking, “I’m English! I’ve been in the rain virtually my entire life. What the heck am I doing here!?” I could barely contain my laughter at the comedy of the whole situation but then I’d been up since six and it was now nearly two in the afternoon and I still hadn’t seen any ‘art’ so I think I might have been displaying the very early stages of some sort of cabin fever. Maybe that was meant to be all part of the experience who knows, but prior to my rain filled journey the premise of an interactive installation in which the viewer has the, ‘power to control the rain’ as they make their own path through a room of perpetual rainfall sounded like the kind of spectacle I’d like to experience.
The immersive installation, ‘Rain Room’ is a new commission created by the arts group, ‘Random International’  established in 2005 and made up of Royal College artists, Hannes Koch, Florian Ortkrass and Stuart Wood. It uses technology that recognises when someone is stood underneath it turning off the rainfall in that particular area. The resulting affect can be likened to a ‘god-like’ complex of being able to walk into a torrential downpour without getting wet and without the aid of an umbrella. The viewer puts the technology and their trust to the test as they walk openly into the rain. Here’s what the info on the gallery wall had to say about Random International,
‘Random International combines aesthetic purity and technical sophistication to create works, often hard won, that explore materiality and immateriality, the animate and inanimate alike. New technologies form the basis of their work which nonetheless draws on op art, kinetics and post-minimalism.’

The piece aims to be, ‘elemental and simple’ which I think it successfully does and the water falling does look beautiful in the dark space as it is lit by a strong back light which emphasises the sculptural quality of the rain even if it does feel a little too staged of theatrical. I think that’s the crucial distinction for me, the rain room didn’t feel ‘natural’ in the way we know the actual rain to be although admittedly it is an incredibly ambitious thing to recreate. This did leave the rain room installation at the Barbican feeling a bit more like a mega giant shower rather than the more unpredictable and wild nature of rain itself. The sort of ‘magical’ quality about the rain is the mystery of not really ever being able to see the source of the cloud it’s falling from but still knowing it’s there somewhere. The confined space of the installation (although by gallery terms it is a ‘big’ space) could never match the awe and intensity of when the ‘heavens open’ and maybe it isn’t supposed to but I point it out because it demonstrates the difficulty and ambition of the installation. It is also why I disagree that the work fulfils its intention of, ‘reminding us of its [waters] growing scarcity on the planet, and encouraging us to consider technologies role in harnessing our precious natural resources’. I didn’t get a sense of the preciousness of water from this work, as it felt more like it was being wasted if anything and for me the piece felt to be more about the people animating and interacting with the work and their reactions to it than anything environmental. More like a social experiment in which our normal reactions of cowering, running and covering up from the ‘rain’ were being challenged as we were invited to stand in it without getting wet. Perhaps giving us time to admire it more?
‘An awful lot happens without people being aware. They come to certain conclusions and even perform actions without ever really, consciously considering why. This is what forms both the impetus and the investigation of the studio’s work. We experiment with this world of barely perceptible behaviour and its simulation to explore human existence.’ 

This isn’t the first time artists have explored the elements and weather in their work, a few more examples I could think of being, Antony Gormley’s fog room at The Hayward, Olafur Eliasson’s sun in Tate Modern’s turbine hall, Anish Kapoor’s vortex at the Venice Biennale, Anthony McCall’s ‘Column’ of mist during this year’s Liverpool Biennial, Walter de Maria’s ‘Lightning Field’ and Berndnaut Smilde’s ‘Nimbus 2’ cloud installation. Phew! And that’s obviously without going into the depths of art history as if I did then Turner and numerous others would certainly make that list.

I think that whilst I was in this installation the biggest irony of the day was yet to come because the sound and intensity of the amount of water that was falling all around you actually left me feeling like I wanted to be a part of it and get soaked. Despite having battled my way through the rain all day by all of a sudden being deprived of not being able to get wet reminded me that in a way the most important and most human thing about the rain which is the getting wet. The theatrical way the light hit the rain, cast and created shadows and danced across the room reminded me of all of those dramatic scenes from films like, ‘Singing in the rain’, ‘Instinct’ and the most famous one being a scene from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ where the characters all receive a proper drenching in the rain acting as a metaphor for freedom and or liberation. Except I was remaining dry! It was an odd experience and I enjoyed the visual look of the piece but felt that maybe the context of it was a little weak (I don’t know maybe the Met Office would have benefited from a rain room?) but then maybe the Barbican is the right place to exhibit a rather stagey piece of installation I can only speculate. Maybe it did feel a bit gimmicky in the way that other debatably gimmicky art works have managed to avoid by having a connection or reason as to why they are situated in that building, site or context. It did leave me feeling slightly less resentful towards the rain as I continued my journey around London that day but its view of the rain was very one-sided as it showed a very romantic and beautiful side to rain as opposed to its destructive side. My expectations for one piece of work may have been too many as I still enjoyed the experience and have had a lot to think about because of it since.  Any who, don’t take my word for it check it out for yourselves and see what you think.
Rain Room is on at the Barbican until March 3rd 2013.

18 November 2012

The Art of Curating

Monday 12th November: Hmmmmm.... A visit to Langport was long overdue!

Seems I was not alone in this thinking and I was joined by a mighty [insert collective noun for a group of artists here] of artists at least 15 or more, who all had the same good idea to attend the workshop, ‘Creative Endeavours –a curatorial guide for artists in Somerset’ at SAW’s base of operations the Town Hall in Langport, yeah!

The session was aimed at artists and makers who may either wish to know about curating art, working with a curator and/or the process of exhibition making. But don’t take my word for it have a read of what the written guide has to say,

“This guide aims to support Somerset based artists and exhibition organisers who wish to introduce a curatorial element into their work. It aims to provide details of all aspects of developing an exhibition, from establishing a clear thematic to the installation of work and the standards of work expected. It provides an overview of what is expected from both artists and curators at each stage of the exhibition making process, including conceptualisation, planning, fundraising, exhibition presentation, and audience development. It aims to define curatorial expectations in a contemporary context, and outline the relationship between artists and curators in order to produce projects that are mutually beneficial.”

I’ll be peppering this post with more quotes and snippets from the ‘Creative Endeavours curatorial guide’ as we go. The guide has been put together by SAW out of the Maximum Exposure project which commissioned three new public art works for Somerset and has been written and produced by Karen Gaskill and Zoe Li with additional material from Karen Macdonald and Carol Carey. At only 9 pages long it puts a lot of content in a much more succinct way than I could waffling on about it here, so I’d be crazy not to make use of it.

Anyway, so there we all were in Langport town hall where Art Weeks Coordinator, Zoe Li explained that the aim for this session was to introduce the guide as a resource tool to refer to and how we could use this session to discuss and think about curatorial practice in relation to our own artistic practices. The aim being to, “Define curatorial expectations, the artist’s role in developing an exhibition and the relationship between artist and curator.” To start things off a kind of setting the scene was presented i.e. five different elements to consider when putting on an exhibition; the audience, the curator, the artist, the institution and the context. How do all of those necessarily come together to make an exhibition and does the artist become the curator or is that a separate role? Is the role of the curator just curating? Are they also an ideas catalyst and/or producer? How does a curator role differ from a guest curator role?

“In our contemporary art world, the term ‘curation or curating’ means the specific knowledge and expertise that a curator brings to contextualizing an exhibition and to presenting art works in a specific location and context. It is a commonly used term in contemporary art exhibitions and projects, and historically it has represented the curator in the context of museums, but in its current meaning represents the contextualization of exhibitions. The curatorial role is still in evolution, and is becoming more defined through active critique and review.”

My feelings of this was the knowledge of the role of curator having changed a lot from being the person who selected and hung exhibitions to a more engaged in the production of work and contextualising role wasn’t anything new but the debates and discussion that was generated during the latter part of the session opened up new challenges of things that I felt were worth considering next time I choose to exhibit. Particularly, I think what I was left wondering was if the artist is in the role of artist/curator then in a way, the curating of the artwork and the interpretation, the narrative and the story-telling it may or may not have becomes as much an important part of the ‘art’ as making it? The art of curating, maybe! I guess the best example to give is when you’ve seen the same piece of work in two different exhibitions and you sometimes have a preference as to which you think is more successful, of course that all depends on what you mean by ‘successful’ amongst other things. However, the point I am making is that I acknowledge that curating and presentation of art can have a profound impact on the viewing of the work and perhaps my confession is that in sometimes being too impatiently excited to show finished work that I take less care and thought in those final stages which seem to be so crucial.

Time for some examples!

Site Specific work –
“There is a long history of artists creating work in unconventional spaces. Often the artist is inspired by a location and takes this into account while planning and creating the artwork. Many curators develop specific knowledge and experience working in this particular setting. They will have a good practical knowledge in presenting work in temporary spaces and are often involved in the liaison with nonart partners, identifying a suitable site with artists and assessing the access and safety issues. This is essential for a curator to have such practical knowledge otherwise ideas from artists will not be fully realized. Some of the practical work may be carried out by a supporting role, such as project manager or technician.
lluminos are lighting designer andfilm/installation artist brothers Rob and Matt Vale. Using website, archive, projection and endurance, for Maximum Exposure Illuminos created a unique video projection event along the Taunton Stop Line. Built during World War II, the Taunton Stop Line consists of hundreds of ‘pill boxes’ – military bunkers designed to stop a potential German advance from the west. Over the course of ten nights each pillbox was be illuminated and projected upon in turn, using imagery and iconography from the structures original usage. Stopping at ten sites each evening, by the end of the ten days one hundred structures from the Stop Line were brought into the light."

Taunton Stop Line as part of 'Maximum Exposure'
Artist led approach –
“The Artist/curator is very common and often a pragmatic approach based on financial and practical reasons. An artist who curates their work can be found among artist run spaces/initiatives where artists wish to engage their ideas to wider audiences through organising an exhibition, event or other activities. This approach is common in Somerset and the majority of exhibitions and projects seen in Somerset Art Weeks are initiated and organised by the artists. There may not be a particular role of artist curator, but the two roles are fulfilled by the same person; their curatorial concern evolving from the perspective of the artist themselves. However, the intention of such a cross over role should be further examined, including its intention and motivation, including how this role effectively presents work in an open and stimulating environment for a wide range of audiences. The role of curator is not purely one of just being a facilitator, but being responsible for the thematic and presentation aspects of the show, and by setting a clear brief and defining how artist and curator interaction can be beneficial.”
In example the Tithe Barn at Cotley Nr Chard which sees an Art Weeks exhibition every year put together with a group of artists who either respond to the space and context or have thematically been grouped together. It seems quite difficult to find an example that is just, ‘an artist led’ approach as there seems to be a lot of crossover in all of them. I can remember hearing some fierce debates from artists as to what makes a piece of work ‘site specific’ or an ‘installation’ on depending on how specific they choose to be. If you analyse it too much it can get very tricky. My own thoughts on this are not to be too pedantic about labelling as the work should speak for itself anyway.

Natalie Parsley at the Tithe Barn, Cotley, 'Context' Somerset Art Weeks 2010
Thematic –
“This is one of many approaches and it often starts from a particular concern from the curator who selects artists whose work will address or explore the theme further. It has advantages in terms of providing audiences with a clear outline of the work and it is suitable for creating a group exhibition. A curator offers a strategy in addressing the theme through a diverse range of work, as well as considering how to balance the different works. Therefore, the curator undertakes a selection process and this often includes dialogue with the selected artists to ensure works not only illustrate the concept devised by the curator but also present the unique artistic concerns of each of the artists involved. The interaction between artists and curator is key to creating a meaningful show for the audiences.”
In looking back at local exhibitions I’d seen, ‘Sheds’ came to mind as being an example of thematic curatorial practice. Featuring work from the BHAAM artists and exhibited in Art Weeks 2011 the show was a collection of work around the theme of sheds. BHAAM Artists had responded to the theme, each in their own unique way making work specifically for the exhibition. It was one of my personal favourites from that Art Weeks 2011.

Tim Martin, 'Westward Hoe' as part of 'Sheds' BHAAM, Somerset Art Weeks 2011.
Venue Based Exhibitions –
“Often curators operate within an established venue that has specific organisational aims and policies attached to it. Exhibitions are part of a wider programme of work delivered by the organisation. Curators may play a role delivering objectives set by others which may have specific audiences and groups connected to the venue. Curators involved in some of the visual arts venues in the South West such as Arnolfini, Plymouth Arts Centre, and Spacex are responsible for developing a programme of exhibitions that align with their organisations’ core aims. There is a certain amount of freedom for a curator to develop their own expertise but sometimes it can also be restricted by the physical space offered by the venue. However, many public art galleries now will carry out their work in off site locations, some integrated to their main artistic programme and many are focusing on engaging with particular communities and groups.”
It would be almost too easy to give a Brewhouse exhibition example here, so I won’t (the guidebook gives, ‘Cultivate 2’ as its example) and instead will throw a bit of a wild card into the mix. Musgrove Park Hospital had a project, titled ‘Cabinet of Wonders’ which they curated with SAW for, I think, a year and is my example of venue based curating. It is more of a wild card because of the context of it being a hospital gallery and not necessarily a public gallery that is just a gallery. Which make it a particularly interesting and unusual place to exhibit in that also poses new opportunities and potential challenges. During the ‘Cabinet of Wonders’ artists were invited to display works in two glass cabinets showcasing a selection of works including ceramics, jewelry, sculptures and mixed-media work.

Natalie Parsley -Work exhibited as part of Musgrove Park Hospital's 'Cabinet of Wonders' 2011/12
During the second half of the session we divided into groups to discuss the responsibilities and expectations of the artist and curator roles under the headings, developing the concept, selecting artists, developing audiences, contracting, budgeting/fundraising, marketing, interpretation, caption/label/info, launch, take-down and evaluation. I won’t go into all the discussions that we had, but I can definitely say this part of the day, for me, felt like the most useful and it was helpful to hear about other artists’ experiences. Thoughts such as, what is your unique selling point and how do you encourage younger people to visit your exhibition being two that have had a lasting impression to consider in the future. It soon became clear quickly that a lot of what we discussed depended on knowing your own strengths and weaknesses as an artist, (are you very good at fundraising but not so good with marketing?  for example) and knowing what kind of work it is that you are making i.e. socially engaged work, selling, non selling, commissioned; as these factors will influence what help you need, whether you need curating or not and can also help to determine your audience.

Overall it was a useful experience and a good opportunity to meet new people. The guide goes into a lot of the content highlighted here in more depth and presents the case that curation can open up new themes/ideas in making artwork, create links to other artists, contexts and opportunities and provide feedback and critical guidance. The relationship between curator and artist is a lot more blurred than perhaps it once was, but this too seems like a step forward and has led to more ambitious projects that have further reach in terms of their audiences and impact than before. The relationship might not always be a smooth one at times, but as artists having a greater awareness of the curatorial process can certainly help make issues of negotiation and diplomacy easier. Now we’re all fuelled with this knowledge and information the opportunity and affects will hopefully take shape in what awaits us for Art Weeks 2013.
If you’d like to read the SAW curatorial guide for artists in Somerset featuring some and more of the case studies mentioned here then please contact:
And if you’re a member of SAW, due to popular demand, there’s an opportunity to take part in a second workshop on Monday 10th December between 11.00 and 01.00pm. Please get in contact to book a place.
Not a member of SAW yet?! Then click on the link below to find out more:


11 November 2012

Street Life - Volkhardt Muller at The Brewhouse

Well, it’s been an exceptionally good week following on from last week’s high of visiting the BHAAM artists; this week has seen free fireworks, free books and free booze topped off by sharing the above in the company of great friends and watching the stage version of, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ (based on the short story by Sillitoe and what would be one of the top books in my own ‘life enhancing books of all time’ list) all of which certainly helping towards keeping my faith in the arts restored where it should be. Wonderful stuff! Completing this most humbling and momentous week has to be the Volkhardt Muller exhibition at The Brewhouse.    

    I’d heard rumours of people paying to have sections of a woodcut printed as part of a kind-of interactive project at The Brewhouse and that the idea was that you could pay for different sizes to be printed and if enough people bought enough pieces it would reveal an even bigger picture....Curious...I zipped down to the Brew one lunchtime to go have a look...

Impressive! Three large block woodcuts leaning against the walls in the gallery each depicting scenes from a high street; shops, lamp posts, bus stops, litter, babies in pushchairs, people on phones, waiting, walking, carrying shopping or reading newspapers, it was all very recognisably familiar stuff. That’s also why I liked it! Each woodcut had areas that had been marked out, printed and then placed onto a light box directly above it. Except the images on the light boxes were fragmented and only told parts of the scene depicted in the woodcut itself. The reason? The rumours I’d heard about people buying parts of prints was correct making the exhibition an interactive one based on people paying for an area (and they can choose how big or small) of their choosing to be printed of which they get a copy to take home and keep and the same area is printed to add to the light box in the gallery. A lucrative idea in terms of making money but more importantly also a very poignant and apt one given the subject matter of the work, the high street. I think the idea of having an interactive piece that is made up of the fragments of different people’s decisions and participation is a good echo of the lives of our own high street as a place of ‘toing and froing’ and interaction; perhaps even more hauntingly appropriate if you take the idea that people and engagement are needed in order for the image to exist/be revealed being the same as the real-life situation many high streets face that without people, without customers they too may become more fragmented and non-existent. That was my reading into it anyway, although I preferred visually the more fragmented images than the whole on the woodcut, perhaps the fragmenting of the image could reflect the constant changing nature of high streets as public spaces. I don’t really mind, I just enjoy thinking about work in this multiple meanings sort-of way. I also thought there was something shop window-like about the illuminated images on their light boxes reflecting the narratives of familiar scenes some more banal, some humorous and others bordering on the slightly disturbing or with a threat of menace in the air. Interesting as well to see what parts of the images people choose to get printed, mostly all the figures were picked out (the exhibition had been up since October) and crushed drinks cans, shop signs and dustbins all being taken (the artist does however, do up to four prints of a given area) all of which leaving fairly large amounts of areas of pavement and road unclaimed. Unless someone was to buy a print of the entire block then I’m guessing that there’ll always be areas like the pavement in the image that are incomplete. This is again another uncanny metaphor for the concept of people having to invest in their high streets in order to keep them. I’m reminded of the excellent book, ‘Embracing the Ordinary’ that I reviewed a while back this year on this blog and the writer Georges Perec who recorded almost forensically the everyday details happening on a street in Saint Sulpice, Paris. Muller has obviously spent a lot of time himself looking at towns and their high streets and a film projected as part of this exhibition acts as a demonstration of source material recorded to make the prints in the exhibition. The work was in fact originally commissioned by Exeter’s Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery for Exeter High Street. Glad it has made its way to Taunton and that the interactivity continues with a third piece in the exhibition made of twenty or so (I didn’t count, ok!) wind-up children’s TVs, you know the kind that have a screen with an image that goes around and around whilst playing a nursery rhyme (see image below). Anyway, these require the viewer to wind them up in order to play the images which have been replaced with Muller’s prints of high street scenes and are like watching a very slow animation or mimicking of driving through a town in a car as it pans across a scene of people queueing at a bus stop or row of shop fronts. There’s a creepy sort-of nostalgia with this piece that I didn’t get with the large woodcuts, maybe it’s due to the wind-up plinkety-plink nursery rhyme music that the boxes emanate as the image goes around or maybe again this is meant to act as a warning of what fate awaits our high streets should we continue to lose shops and their identities they have within our towns until all that is left of them is images in children’s toys and ladybird books. Ha ha, SCARY! On the other hand, maybe there’s also something quite funny and childlike to it that I’ve missed (I’ve only offered up my own interpretation of the work). All in all it’s a great idea to have an exhibition that is dependent on the people who visit it to both make and contribute to the work as well in a way being the subject matter for it. I can imagine would have been equally interesting to watch it as it grew and hope that out of all this participation it just might make people look at their own high streets a little differently if at the very least feel that in our own individual ways we have a role to play in animating these public spaces whether that’s feeding the pigeons, shopping, skating or just walking through that is the mandate of the honest hardworking people.

‘Since 2010 Volkhardt Müller has been chronicling public life in British cities through drawing, wood/linocut, print objects and moving image. Following his solo exhibition at RAMM in Exeter, Müller’s work in The Brewhouse puts in focus the relationships between the generic and the locale, often drawing on the British High Street as a petri dish for observation and a source of ideas.’
Catch Volkhardt Muller’s exhibition, ‘Mandate from the honest hard working people’ at The Brewhouse until November 17th:

Opportunities galore!

There are a lot of opportunities and projects on offer for young artists and emerging artist graduates at the moment. If you haven't heard about the two below already then please take a look:

Hunky Punk Toy Project - Artist Work Opportunity

The overall vision of the project is to encourage more members of the local community to visit All Saints church in Langport, to recognise its value as a community asset. Another part of the project is youth empowerment, the project is run by the New Saints - young people (aged between 16 and 25) with facilitation from CCT and SAW.
The CCT and the New Saints are non-religious organisations, focusing on buildings conservation and opening the building to the whole community.

Artist Task
The CCT, New Saints and SAW will work with the appointed artist to develop a mini-project around the research, design and creation of Hunky Punk soft toys. All this is to be undertaken with input and participation with children and young people and through a series of workshops. Hunky Punks are the gargoyles and grotesques found on churches in Somerset.

Your Experience
We are looking to appoint an artist to undertake this work who can demonstrate an awareness and willingness to develop expertise in the areas outlined above. Core competencies should involve:
- Understanding of the brief and the context;
- Some experience in working with textiles, product design, working with young people and project management;
- Excellent collaborative, team working and communication skills.

Artists aged 25 and under are particularly invited to apply as this project is very much focused on creating opportunities for young people. All ages please apply however, the artist with the right skills mix will be appointed.

Closing date for applications Friday 30 November
Artist appointed in January 2013
Main activity during February to April, plus showcase event in May 2013. Dates and times to be mutually agreed, activity will be in the Langport area.

Artist's fees £1,000 on a freelance contract (to include approx 7 half day workshops plus R&D, celebration, evaluation)

Artist's Brief, full details and how to apply can be found on:

Reveal would like to announce Progression Support for Fine Art Graduates

Why not take advantage of the following workshops to plan your future
Three Stops to Success...

Discover the tools and resources you need for a successful creative journey.

Take Art in association with Reveal partners (Brewhouse Visual Arts, Somerset Film and Somerset Art Works) and Apples & Snakes are running a programme of three workshops for young and emerging artists and anyone else working in the arts who would like some tips and pointers.

Taking place at Albermarle Centre, Taunton

Workshop 1: A Sense of Direction on 23 November at 10am-5pm - Will help you work out where you are now? Where you want to go? How you are going to get there?
Workshop 2: Fuelling Up on 30 January 2013 at 10am to 5pm - Focuses on funding and how to get the right support for your work.
Workshop 3: Tools for the Journey on 19 February 2013 at 10am to 5pm - Focusing on tools and resources and how to manage, market and administrate yourself as a self-employed practitioner.

The workshops can be attended individually or as a course. Find out more at
Supported by SCC Creative Industries Fund and Arts Council CYP Thrive 2 Programme.

4 November 2012

The Blackdown hills are alive with the sound of BHAAM!

When I first heard of the art group named BHAAM I thought that they were maybe a modern equivalent to Futurism or a Roy Lichtenstein comic-book pop art fan club (although that probably says more about me), anyway, I think the last thing I expected was to learn that BHAAM (short for Blackdown Hills Artists and Makers) was a membership organisation of creative practitioners who live, work, and have an interest in the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Devon/Somerset border. The mnemonic of BHAAM, however couldn’t be more  appropriately apt as this week saw the opening of a two years arts project, ‘Skills Unearthed’ and is currently packing a punch (of the good kind) and making itself known in the South West.
 I had a look-see around three out of a possible seven venues this weekend to see what exactly what was going on in them thar’ hills...
Liz Fathers displays her bloomers amongst an exhibition of cut-outs, sculpture and research about washing at Simonsburrow House, Hemyock.
At Simonsburrow House in Hemyock, Devon there is washing on a line, a fair bit of it to and come rain or shine or, well, more rain (after all we are in Devon!) it continues to hang there sentient in rows seemingly unaware that it is there to be viewed and maybe even scrutinized as it makes up the integral part of an exhibition all about laundry!
Artist Liz Fathers has created an exhibition that documents her exploration of the skills and practice of laundry. Specifically based on the memories of people living in the Blackdown Hills, Liz has researched into the cultural background of this domestic practice as it has evolved over the years with the advancement of electricity, indoor water and washing machines. Whilst I might not be the biggest fan of actually having to do the washing it doesn’t take much to convince me that washing laundry and washing machines and irons can be beautiful as well as interesting, culturally, as objects. Sold! In fact, it gives me an excuse to bring up the exhibition, ‘Dirt’ I visited and reviewed on this blog at The Wellcome Collection last year. Similarly to Liz that exhibition and saw artists working with research/items from the museum’s collection on the subject of waste, washing, dirt, recycling, health and hygiene.
Liz is one of the most thorough and prolific researchers I have ever had the pleasure to know and whilst she has used some of her findings to make some sculptural pieces, silhouette cut-outs (pictured specifically so I could drop a Kara Walker reference in-heh) and more. For me the greatest success is that the research becomes the actual art work itself. Liz knows this, and presents her findings in an openly refreshing way that is matched with a great sense of humour and conversation (aided by copious amounts of tea!) that she brings to the work. I’d love to see how she (if she chooses to) develops this work next.

 For all of the artists taking part in ‘Skills Unearthed’ the work shown this November represents the first stage of the two year project and has the aim of growing and strengthening the membership of BHHAAM as well as commissioning and exhibiting a series of new works and events that celebrate crafts and industries, past and present of the area. So whilst the work exhibited is very much finished there is still the opportunity that the work may continue and develop into the second part of the project which is exciting as in many cases there is potential to continue work on a similar theme and perhaps uncover even more...

A site specific trouve of intrigue at the Nissen Hut at Cherry Hayes Farm, Smeatharpe
Next on our list, was a Nissen Hut formally used in WW2 and one of several which are in use by the farmer on what was a formerly used as an airfield. This particular hut however, is kept free from farming and has a planned future use to be turned into a Museum by South West Airfields Heritage Trust. In the mean time, it is the perfect location that both contextualises and in some cases has also inspired the practice of several of the artists who are exhibiting here. Namely: Carly Batchelor, Ruth Bell, Sara Dudman, Jon England, Tim Martin, Michelle Ridings and Karin Sabin Krommes.  For example, Sara Dudman’s paintings have been created taking inspiration from the people and farming activities of the sheep farm that the Nissen Hut is situated on. Similarly Jon England and Karin Sabin Krommes (pictured) collaborative photography, ‘investigates the topography and ecology of the Blackdown Hills’ three World War II airfield sites: Culmhead, Dunkeswell and Smeatharpe (Upottery). Sited here specifically for their rural isolation the airfields present a terrain that is at odds with much of the rest of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’ Tim Martin’s video piece, about the Young Farmer’s Club YFC made with the Culm Valley Young Farmers reveals an interesting link to the origins of the YFC being first established in Hemyock before becoming the national organisation it is today.

Carly Batchelor -Blackdown Blueprints

Karin Sabin Krommes at Nissen Hut on Cherry Hayes Farm
By now our feet were well and truly frozen, so it was off to our final visit for the day to see Gordon Field at Otterhead Lodge, Culmhead. Wish I had taken some photos to show you, I’ve had to pinch one I previously used from the SAW website to give you just one example of Gordon’s work.
Where Gordon works is more like a cabinet of curiosities than a studio, filled with objects like those pictured above, tools, ash tree branches, paintings, ceramics and more and more. However, the work he has made for ‘Skills Unearthed’ is presented throughout the Orchard and in the shed on the way up to the studio. Branches that have been used for dowsing have been painted and then placed in specific locations throughout the orchard mapping the pathways of badgers and bumble bees that journey across it. It doesn’t probably get more site-specific than this, but interestingly as the work influences how the viewer navigates the site of the orchard and garden, it also makes one consider the relationship within the greater context of the natural world as a whole. Again, perhaps the highlight (other than Gordon’s studio) was actually talking with the artist himself, as a novice myself into the mysterious art/or science of dowsing it was insightful and interesting to learn more about this ancient skill.
 They don’t call it ‘Skills Unearthed’ for nothing!
Skills Unearthed : artworks across seven different venues in and around the Blackdown Hills can be seen until  3rd - 18th November (most venues only open weekends please visit link to website below for further details on opening times and map) Other participating artists include; Andrew Bell, Louise Cottey, Alice Crane, Katherine Creasey, June Dobson, Sarah George, Maxine Green, Liz Gregory, Bronwen Gundry, Fiona Hamilton, Nick Meech, Pauline Rook, Andre Wallace and Gillian Widden.