The beautiful gallery space at Artcore seems to have been made for this installation of 'Small Promethean Acts'. The circular room has a very high ceiling from which a circular glass mobile hangs in the centre. Eight small speakers hang from the ceiling in the middle at head height so that you can place them to your ear to hear recorded stories about small acts of care collected from the public in Derby. It is lit with a warm light from spots on the wall and there is light enough to see 20 or more small assemblage sculptures made from tiny stoneware figures that have been made to fit around found domestic objects.
Not all the work was made for this installation. Some existing work sits next to new work made from things found, mostly on the streets, during the residency - like a serving platter, a Ruskin bowl, a child's hoover toy, plates, and a teapot. Others are older items that were found and kept over the years, like the singer sewing machine, an old typewriter, some taps, a string pot and a dustpan.
The sculptures are displayed on old white furniture of different sizes, used as plinths and arranged in a semi-circle ending in a snail shape that you enter to listen to the stories. They do not illustrate the stories, that are told quietly in a small hum that emanates from the speakers
I have been thinking a lot about Walter Benjamin’s notion of ‘constellations’ and its application to art as having multiple points of connection. In the same way that we look at stars and find patterns even when there is seemingly no ‘real’ or tangible relationship between them, we look at fragments and objects, events, acts…and create relationships between them.
Last week Steve Pool came in to talk about his projects Never-land and No place for the future and the ways in which he has worked with people and communities; making connections with audiences. This week I started working with a group at the Women’s Centre in Derby. It was difficult to find the right label for this workshop. The Women’s Centre called it ‘celebrating your successes’. It isn’t quite that. The idea is to gather together and in the process of making, share things we have done – small but valuable things that we do for our families.
It is less about the clay than talking. Clay is so therapeutic –it’s like a stress ball as much as a creative malleable material. It’s relaxing to mold things. I’d love to meet women who might donate stories to the project and perhaps even show their small clay figures but it will be on their terms. I’d love it if they had a sense of value through sharing their work at Artcore but it will be whatever they decide.
I couldn’t be in Derby last week as I had to go home to work and earn some money. I also had my 'Domestic Dystopias' paintings on show. 'Domestic Dystopias' are a colourful series of large paintings using bitumen paint that are about homes, women, children. Intended to be dark and funny, I realise I’m not entirely happy with the overdramatic use of ‘dystopias’. I had merely wanted to question ideality in the home and play with the opposite of Utopia. So I asked: ‘What lies in between ‘utopia’ and ‘dystopia’? My husband said: ‘Everyday life’. Not such a catchy title though.
Today I just want to be able to sit in the studio and make new work. I’m still surprised sometimes that I make figurative work yet figures ‘perform’ in ways that I can’t. We feel, empathise and respond to the movements and gestures of other humans - and I think to mimetic sculpture and drawings too. The small clay figures take a long time to create. They must ‘fit’ an object and tell a story of their own. The figures can be kitsch, classic, awkward, fragmented yet the stoneware clay always has a classy aesthetic - once fired.
These small sculptures do not illustrate the stories literally. They might link or be inspired by stories that I am collecting from people about their domestic lives
I’ve been reflecting and reading about 'creative engagement'. For all the years that I have been able to call myself an artist I have wanted to engage people – take them on a tour or talk to them in the street. In the early 90s I made a lots of street performances that were about talking to people – about things. They would ask what I was doing - usually something strange – and the conversations that ensued would be the real ‘art work’. It was never possible to really capture this process although you could sometimes see glimpses in video documentation or ‘vox pops’ .
Visiting the Hepworth with my granddaughter, we were really taken with the materials they provided for ‘creative engagement’. Together we played with the wood, metal, soft ‘holed’ material that had been carefully designed and provided. The physical engagement with tactile and physical objects that related to the work on show, created conversations and a joint experience and exploration between us.
I also visited Manchester Art Fair and galleries and loved the Promethean vase on display. (Minton vase, 1875-1878) with captives hanging from the top of its beautiful blue Celeste glaze. It reminded me why my small sculpture for Small Promethean Acts reference this classic story: Prometheus stole the secret of fire for mankind. As punishment the gods chained him to a rock and commanded an eagle to peck
Last week the apparition of the ‘Knife Angel’ next to Derby was an example of the ways in which objects can be used to reflect on social and political meaning. As 'social sculpture', the 27 feet high sculpture made from around 100,000 bladed weapons collected in knife amnesties, and created by the British Ironwork Centre with sculptor Alfie Bradley is a stunning and topical National Monument.
Tuesday morning, Birmingham. Bad luck. Someone thought that it would be a good idea to break into my car. They didn't get in. Nothing was taken because there was nothing of value to steal and some of my personal belongings were thrown into the road. I spent the day getting 2 car windows replaced.
Later in the day my disappointment in people became re-enchantment as I talked to Brummies on the bus back to where I was staying. More than 4 people gave me advice about buses and directions, one old lady her life story and the bus driver waived payment for the ride.
I was even happy to find the rock used to break the windows, inside the car. Perhaps an interesting object to make art from? An opportunity to change its story and create a new one?Just as we change our stories about ourselves and our lives, manipulating objects around us can change the
We recently moved to a small village in Cornwall where news and gossip travels fast. One of our neighbours passes our house regularly, stopping we are sure to collect any gossip about us that she can share in the local shop. Since she has a zimmer frame and she moves extremely quickly onto the shop after talking to us, so our nick-name for her is ‘hot wheels’.
We also have meaningful conversations with ‘hot wheels’, as although she plugs us for information we manage to change the subject. One day when she was talking about our new home and how we were settling in, she said “home is where you are understood.”
This evening finding time to relax in front of what I call ‘sad telly’ - there was a scene where the main character returns home and sees the old teapot her mother has on the table. She asks why she still has it. Her mother replies “Nothing says home like that old teapot”.
Visiting Derby Museum and Pickford’s Museum this week, I enjoyed some of the objects and the idea that much of this particular display was selected by people from Derby.
Tim Shore’s exhibition throws up stories in contemplating ‘Derby Meantime’. Little Red Riding Hood in the paper theatre display is a story that is never threadbare no matter how it is multiplied, mutilated and retold. We tell
I travelled home today. I live in West Cornwall, very near Land’s End. At home I gazed at the garden sculpture we inherited when we moved in – the bits we didn’t give away like the dogs and pigs. The classical figures of women with their patina of age have a certain charm though I am seeing them today with new eyes. One of women, their arms alluringly raised, supporting a bird bath, another, a woman in classical dress reaching over. Just like everyone I take for granted that this is the way that sculpture portrays women.
The public sculpture in Derby that I’ve seen so far includes the typical heroic male (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and the charming ‘Boy with a Goose’ but also some women. Unusually the war memorial is a woman holding a baby. War memorials mostly represent those that died, not the women that bore sons who went off to war so it is a touching tribute. I also found Florence Nightingale on the side of a building. I was glad to find these two tributes to women, - even if there are 3 other men commemorated around the opposite side of the building to Florence, reflecting the usual gender inequality when it comes to civic statues.
What is the significance of monuments? Do we think differently about our lives when
Exploring the city of Derby with curator David Gilbert and artist Natasha Joseph was a great introduction to the Artcore residency. To me it seemed like a large town rather than a city, easy to circumnavigate the centre and lots of friendly people...