Starting an artists residency for the very first time is both exciting and daunting in equal measure. There is no specific brief or theme for my time here, which means I have a great opportunity to work with and respond to many aspects of The Bureau. I really want to make this experience meaningful for my own development, but also hope my presence will bring something exciting and new to the centre and the people who come and use the space.
I would love to make work that responds to some of the beautiful architectural features of the building itself, as an 18th Century Church building, there is no shortage of interesting features to explore.
My first official ‘Artist in Residence’ activity at the Bureau, I was asked by the team to run a session as part of The National Fun Palaces event that was happening at the Bureau. I chose to do an activity that involved collaboration and group participation. We made giant ‘Earth Buttons’ using a vast array of different shaped and textured collage material, all glued onto giant cardboard circles. Each ‘Button’ was created in such a way to suggest the shapes, forms and textures found in the natural environment, I hoped that the overall effect would be a textured circle that could look like a plant or human cell or a birds eye view of the earth from above.
The community came along on the day of the event and really got stuck in to the activities on offer, it was wonderful to see so many people of all different ages, cultures and backgrounds. People worked together to create the Earth Buttons and there was lots of chatter and support whilst making. The place was buzzing with creativity and positive energy and it was fantastic to have been part of this event.
Finishing Off the Earth Buttons
As there was such a mixture of different materials, I used a mixture of PVA glue and tissue to seal in all the lovely textures on the discs which would eventually be painted. I then used different coloured lacquers to colour and seal the Earth Buttons. The finished works can currently be seen displayed on easels in The Bureau’s main space.
The Finished Earth Buttons..
New work emerging
I am beginning to feel at home now at The Bureau, engaging with the physical space feels as important during this experience as does engaging with the people who use it. I started to consider the buildings history as a place of religious worship and later as a centre for advice and support before becoming the Arts Centre it is today. There will be more about this as my residency progresses, I already have the seeds of some ideas for what may become my main piece of work for my exhibition at the end of this journey.
I have begun by looking at ways to work with and in juxtaposition to the architecture of the building. I also tried to imagine what life would have been like as a member of the congregation of St. John’s Church and how much this building has shifted and changed in its purpose & patronage over the centuries. I also recalled my own memories of being a young person involved in church life in my early teens. Two things stick out clearly in my mind about my own memories of being part of a church :- an expectation of conformity and a sense of belonging.
As a young woman with a desire to be part of something bigger than my small suburban life, together with a dominant father who pushed me into church attendance and participation, I have mixed views and feelings about the impact the experiences of being a member of a church had on me. It isn’t my wish or intention to discuss religious beliefs here, nor would I describe myself as an artist with a strong political voice, but I was interested in exploring how I could make a piece of work that discusses and engages with some of these memories and make it relevant to my work as an artist and my role in The Bureau.
I have a long standing love of plaster, I love its expediency, its’ matt, chalky white appearance and its smooth surfaces as well as its magical molecular properties as a transformative material. Quickly moulding and forming itself against whatever it is paired with, picking up the patterns, textures and shapes of other objects with remarkable accuracy.
I had a job lot of ladies tights in my studio and recall the many times I have stuffed my pale, ample form into this garment for the purposes of conforming to gender stereotypes about the female form. I thought that this would be both amusing and appropriate as a material to use when thinking about conformity, particularly as at the time I regular wore hosiery, I didn’t challenge or question why I felt under pressure to wear such a restrictive and uncomfortable garment – I just conformed!
In addition to using tights for this piece, I wanted to explore how I could bring experiences of belonging to this work. As a young person my fondest memories of being in church were those that came from a sense of belonging, from having a wider family of people who knew you, cared about you and wanted to support and help however they could. When I joined the Bureau as Artist in Residence I have felt this same sense of nurturing, kindness and support. Although the origins of these experiences were very different the resulting impact on me personally has been very similar, I feel a sense of being part of something bigger, an artistic family that look out for each other.
The resulting work that emerged from these thoughts and ideas is titled “Family of Non-Conformity” and continues to be a work in progress as I add to and grow the piece over the coming weeks.
Happy New Year – 2019 and new work
My activity and presence at The Bureau was suddenly halted in December 2018 due to a close family member becoming suddenly very ill. Am pleased to say they have now recovered and things are beginning to get back to usual. With this in mind, I have begun to think about the final exhibited work that I will show as a celebration and reflection of my residency here at the Bureau.
Just before my unexpected break from The Bureau, I was lucky enough to meet up with some of the people from the local community who would work with the commissioned artists for the Festival of Light. Sadly I didn’t get the chance to participate this year, which was particularly regrettable given I had bought light up shoes especially! Not to worry, no doubt I will get to wear them soon enough.
Whilst meeting and talking to local people, I was struck by the level of interest and enthusiasm in creative activities they had shown during our conversations. It reinforced what I had already learned from my time here, the Bureau is about the people, they are the foundation stones of how The Bureau grows and develops, so consequently any work I choose to do as a final show needed to reflect this.
I then began to think about the form and physical structure of buildings, what makes a building strong, solid, safe and stand the test of time? Good solid foundations, strong permanent bonds and a variety of different kinds of materials that have the resilience and commitment to weather adversity and time. It felt like the perfect analogy for everyone involved in working, using and supporting The Bureau as a creative space for all. I want to develop a contemporary sculptural installation piece that reflects these ideas, that everyone can participate in creating and that builds and grows from many parts to form one structure.
Am still at the thinking and experimenting stage at the moment, but a number of ideas are forming, it’s exciting to go through the process of experiencing these ideas whilst they develop into potential art works, watch this space to find out more about the final plan and the subsequent making of the work.