Magnetic North Blog
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Space/Time online residency
From 30 November our paid residency for experienced artists gets underway. Space/Time is a creative retreat for artists from any art form that asks the question “How can you continue to thrive as an artist?”. Normally participants travel together to a location in Scotland. However, due to the pandemic, we have rethought Space/Time as an online residency. The residency aims to refresh participants through a stimulating examination of creativity in this new way of working and living. The residency artists are:
Years ago I made three bronze plaques for the TWA Flight 800 Memorial in St. John the Divine, the Episcopal Cathedral of NYC. I visited them the day after the ceremony for the bereaved. I was horrified. They were filthy. They were covered in fingerprints. And in the next millisecond, I realised they were covered in fingerprints. They were being used. That is when I decided I wanted to make useful things.
I work in performance, video, sound, and installation. Often I work collaboratively with artists, composers, musicians, the public, and groups with protected characteristics. My work concerns the interior life and processes of being human. Long-term projects include making compelling environments in which to die using the word environment in as broad a scope as possible, and the process of forgiving. One on-going collaborative project makes interior music, with live electronics, sound design, and glass instruments, some of which I make live in the fire during performances.
A large part of my job as an artist is making safe, compelling environments and situations where people can examine, discover, and deal with that which they hold most close to their hearts, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. Duty of care is deeply embedded in my work and never ends, even after the close of a project.
In 2018-2019 I had a solo exhibition Forgiveness, commissioned by National Glass Centre, Sunderland, that travelled to Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and Thurso Art Gallery. For each venue, supported groups were engaged and some individuals recorded their own stories of forgiveness (or not forgiveness yet). I use my practice partially as a way to engender the trust and safety that would allow someone to feel comfortable enough to reveal stories so personal. These then become part of the artworks to encourage visitors to use the exhibition fully as it was intended: a step by step discovery of the process of forgiveness as outlined by The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu.
We are deeply invested emotionally and often financially in the memorialization of our dead and toil to make the place and circumstance of memorialization beautiful, dignified, and meaningful for ourselves, and the memory of our loved ones. Less effort is spent on the place of death. What kind of sensory environment might be compelling as a place to die? I am making a series of passing places: sound, film, performance, and installation works based on the physical, social, and metaphysical events of death.
I originally trained as a veterinary surgeon at Edinburgh University and took dance classes in hip hop and breakdance on the side. After graduating, I was offered a job with Freshmess Dance company, who mixed hip hop with contemporary dance, and gradually I turned my back on vaccinating cats. I spent several years working with this company learning on the job and then a further year learning how to point my toes at the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance.
I came away from that with a desire to start making my own work and created my company Room 2 Manoeuvre (R2M). With the company, I've toured work throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK, in Europe, South America and Asia. In 2016 R2M became company in Residence at The Brunton. Under the banner of R2M, my work focuses on three things: performance, teaching and artist development. I make dance theatre performances that attempt to blend hip hop, contemporary dance and physical theatre. Often these works have a narrative, a good dose of dark humour, a robust physical vocabulary and relate to aspects of our humanity like vulnerability, identity or competitiveness.
I create work for both indoor and outdoor spaces and have a specific interest in how we can use dance to re-imagine public spaces and city landscapes as a new or unique way to engage and inspire local audiences; to encourage people to see where they live as not just a place to exist but a place of creativity. Through R2M, I deliver free dance classes to schools in East Lothian and lead workshops in both professional and community settings in Scotland and further afield. In conjunction with The Brunton I deliver free class to professional dancers on a periodic basis. So right now, with the backdrop of Covid, I am juggling how to continue doing these things while leaving some room for my own professional growth.
Since becoming a self-employed/ freelance musician in 2005 I have been lucky enough to perform with many of the most innovative musicians on the international underground, including Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Jandek, Current 93, Incredible String Band and many more. Having such direct experiences with so many intensively creative and idiosyncratic song writers has been a great privilege. It’s helped expand my own creative ability and broaden my list of contacts within the music industry by introducing me to labels, radio producers and journalists. It’s also acted as a solid set of credentials when meeting other potential collaborators.
Although primarily a drummer, in 2009 I started to channel these experiences into my own song writing, founding projects including Alex Rex, Crying Lion and the critically acclaimed Trembling Bells. As well as being the principal song writer for these projects I am the manager, producer, booking agent, tour manager and driver. I am highly motivated and interested in all aspects of music production and creation.
My central project between 2009 and 2019 has been Trembling Bells. We produced six albums during that time and a number of singles and music videos. I set up Alex Rex initially as a side project to the Bells - one which was more focused on the lyrics and featured more minimal arrangements. We have produced three albums and various videos since 2017 (Vermillion in 2017, Otternburn in 2018 and Andromeda in 2020). Unfortunately, Trembling Bells ceased activities last year after releasing its most heralded album, Dungeness. Since then my focus has redoubled on Alex Rex and I feel like the Bells disbanding has liberated my song writing and I am now operating at a creative peak.
This sense has been reinforced by the unanimous critical acclaim enjoyed by my last album, Andromeda. I was nominated for a Folk Award in 2011 and BBC 6Music Album Of The Year in 2016 as recognition for my excellence as a songwriter.
Experimentation is central to his desire to create which accounts for a body of work which encompasses free jazz, traditional folk, poetry, psych rock and music with dancers and live painting. I am currently finalising an album of my poetry set to music for Neolithic Recordings in collaboration with the artist Ben Prosser.
In 2016 I founded the quarterly experimental music club WildLife. Hosted at the Poetry Club, Glasgow, WildLife pitches the best of the international avant garde with some prime local talent.
My work speaks to western civilisation’s uneasy relationship with the natural environment. My research investigates fears about being human; in particular human hubris or the tendency to bring misfortune upon ourselves even when it could have been averted. The objects that develop from this research are celebrations of the complicated, contradictory and haphazard experience of being alive, and though the narratives I follow can lead to dark and despondent places, making objects provides space for reflection where these fears can be articulated or even laughed at.
I survive through a mixed ecology of lecturing work as a teaching associate at Duncan of Jordanstone, artist talks and residencies, critical writing, projects commissioned by a mixture of arts organisations and local authority bodies. Occasionally I am invited to produce solo exhibitions in galleries, with my first solo show Earth Rise commissioned by Tramway in 2015. While I find presenting gallery shows incredibly rewarding in terms of pushing the material development of my work, I don’t always find it necessarily suits my sculptures as a context. The objects I make are suited to sociable spaces where people and objects can co-exist within more spontaneous and less regulated environments. In some ways this brings me closer to theatre and other forms of live-art production. While this is incredibly exciting and rewarding, it does present me with challenges. Financial survival is a challenge, partly because I don’t have a sales based practice and partly because I’m forging a less well-trodden path in terms of how I present and disseminate my work. I have often felt I’m at a disadvantage because my work prioritises embodied experience over digitally distributed participation, and the pandemic has compounded this feeling.
After completing an MFA in sculpture in 2014, I became determined to look for less traditional or ‘sculpture-centric’ contexts to develop and display my work. I found the Enlightenment influences of traditional sculpture - influences that are still very present in the art-market - incredibly stifling. I began working regularly alongside Monster Chetwynd, who has introduced me to many new environments and approaches. In the last two years I have focussed a lot of my attention on seeking new contexts better suited to my approach and have already made a lot of progress. In 2019 I set up a live sculpture and performance event called ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions’ in an abandoned floor of a shopping centre. Alongside making new objects I developed a range of narrative strands in collaboration with performance artists Fritz Welch, Iain Findlay-Walsh and Francesca Hawker, focusing on popular delusions of our time. I wanted to provide a supportive container in which they could experiment and improvise alongside me. Not having found the sorts of environments I want to present my work in regularly enough, I decided to create what I need myself; a significant step. Having made such progress with moving away from solo, studio based methods of creative production, the pandemic has proved incredibly difficult.
I have been a performer/maker in theatre and dance for nearly 35 years now. I have a portfolio career, in that I teach, perform, direct, devise work and also work as a movement director. More recently I have been employed as a journalist.
Early on in my career, while living in London, I worked with Graeme Miller, who introduced me to devising work for theatre. I collaborated with him on two theatre productions and a sound installation. With that work came an interest in devising text and writing. Not long after working with Graeme I created my first piece of work ‘Bed,’ an interactive, video installation for Pandemonium Festival. As well as working extensively in theatre, I also worked with companies that crossed the boundaries between performance, installation, theatre and dance. I eventually went on to study writing at undergraduate and post graduate level. As an undergraduate I won the Sandra Ashman Prize for Literature.
When I moved to Scotland 12 years ago I got involved in dance again and worked for some of the small-scale dance theatre companies as a deviser/performer and occasionally contributing writer. I bring years of experience and a wide variety of skills to the table as a performer/maker. So, although I may be employed in one role my opinions and advice are solicited in a number of areas. I am a creative associate with Catherine Wheels Theatre Company and work with them as a performer, script consultant and movement director. More recently I have worked as a movement director for the education department of Scottish Opera on Memory Spinners, which makes small scale performances with people living with Dementia. While I often work on other people's projects - mostly in theatre nowadays - in various capacities, I occasionally create my own work. In 2012, I was invited to perform The Shame Chronicles at Pivotal Festival in Inverness. It was a solo performance with live music, which I created, performed and wrote. I’m currently working on a project Angel, supported by Creative Scotland, which is due to premiere at The Byre, St. Andrews in 2021. It is also a solo performance.
I have been making and teaching art for the last 25 years. My earlier work related to inner landscapes and states and existed as sometimes quite large scale installations using a wide variety of materials. In 1996 I undertook the first residency at the Pier Arts Centre on Orkney and I began to consider the ways in which inner landscapes can be subject to turbulence or sometimes unknown effects from external elements.
In 2000 I secured a Millennium Award which supported research into the placing of mobile phone masts and in what ways community agency could influence this, or not. This body of work resulted in an a publication and an exhibition at Intermedia Gallery in Glasgow, parts of which toured with the Travelling Gallery and also to the Pier Arts Centre. Later work relating to long wave radio signals in an area of Scotland ‘dark’ to mobile technologies, was exhibited at the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh and in Sweden with Lapplands Konstnarskoloni.
In 2004, following a desire to more deeply understand the research underpinnings of my art practice, I undertook an MA in Environmental Philosophy at the University of Lancaster. After this I researched work supported by Cupar Visual Arts over three years which resulted in a project entitled ‘Quiet, Damp, Elevated Hollow’ relating to the properties of an area close to Cupar that is said to be particularly disposed to radio transmissions. There followed in 2012 a show at the Briggait as part of Glasgow International. Over the years, the written word had begun to assume an important part of my practice.
In 2013, I published paper in the Journal of the Society for Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture, an international organisation dedicated to using phenomenology to examine the contents of consciousness as it encounters experience in the world. I think this was the start of my beginning to find ways to navigate the articulation between the practices of making and writing. Written work, published and forthcoming, continued in exploring other elements of inner and outer experience through rain and darkness alongside an increasing preoccupation with drawing living, breathing entities that we are bound to (in the form of trees) as a method of processing experience.
After moving to the Isle of Skye in 2016 I entered a more participatory engagement with the world through gardening practice and in the tending of a woodland. Over this period I ran contemplative drawing classes in woods and gardens and I developed a Reflecting Pool for a large garden in south Skye. After a period of three years on Skye, I needed to make a return home to Glasgow to pick up the pieces of my life here and an exhibition scheduled at National Trust Balmacara Steadings earlier this year, sadly had to be cancelled.