child looking smug because made a sculpture at the hepworth museum
20 Oct

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.

photo of promethean or captive vase minton victorian manchester art museum

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 out his liver which grew back to be pecked again and again. Caring acts in the home are like this. They are the daily grind that can be painful as well as joyful. Making my small stoneware figures is about representing and exploring this ambivalence.

Making new work in the Artcore studio, forming clay with my hands is a process of imprinting the self, and empathetically working body to body. The soft malleable material – the hand to eye feel of bodies and how they move and gesture, probably has better aesthetic results when I have spent time drawing, yet the immediacy of the material in conversation with my hands means that I also often just pick up the clay, and with an object in mind and start forming a body.

video and wallpaper sonia boyce at manchester art gallery

As Anne Louise Kershaw’s statement and intervention ‘Feminist revision, Myth, dream and reality’ makes clear, art questions the present as much as the past. Art shapes as well as reflects society and Sonia Boyce’s work ‘Six Acts’ (image shown. Also at Manchester Art Gallery) used conversations with staff, artist-collaborations and gallery users to make performance, video and wallpaper that question power relationships and stereotypes in classical myths. Exposing inequalities that shape people’s lives. I loved the performances with the public that were combined with the installation. A-liveness that brought people to life, engaging them in memorable dialogue. Conversation as tactile as making, conversation performing a negotiation of understanding, creating something in-between Object and Subject.

I had some lovely conversations with people in the street outside Artcore on Tuesday. No recordable outcomes. People told me stories, yet negotiating the practical territory of ‘outcome versus process’ is going to be challenging. I could spend every day talking to the people I meet in Derby about their homes and acts of care but have nothing to ‘show’ for it. How to collect stories that can be re-presented and celebrated is problematic. There seems no practical way of capturing the magic of encounter, the constellations and points of arrival and departure when you weave things together in conversation.

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