Situated between the tarns and tors of Cumbria, The Institute is a cultural and social hub in the village of Coniston and served as the venue for this year’s Doremi Artist Residency and Open Weekend 2017. The annual initiative, organised by Jocelyn McGregor, Hattie Moore and Alex Culshaw, brings together nominated artists from rural and urban locations across the North of England to experience a week of collective discussion, artistic exploration and creation.
Based close by at Lawson Park, the current Doremi host, Grizedale Arts, has been instrumental in the regeneration of The Institute, reviving John Ruskin’s visions for the building almost 150 years ago. Ruskin settled in Coniston in 1872 and his ideas on integrating art into life continue to resonate within the local community today. The Doremi residency provides artists with the opportunity to be immersed in a holistic creative environment, with the ‘art as life’ principle that underpins The Institute both complimenting the week and infusing the final Open Weekend exhibition.
Entering the exhibition via The Institute’s ‘Honest Shop’, steps led up to a darkened Reading Room where a number of artist’s films were being shown, including Meg Naronchai and Caroline Rodrigues’ collaborative piece entitled ‘Talking to Goldfish’. Utilising the natural acoustics of the nearby Cathedral Caverns, the artists seemed to generate a third space within their collaboration, in which they felt safe to vocally ‘freefall’ in an instinctive exchange that filled the cloistered caves with ethereal bird-like song.
Showing alongside, Kate Liston’s film ‘Hydra and Hydro’ interwove connections between the sub-conscious, the Cumbrian elements, and Greek mythology. The piece was partly a reference to Ruskin’s essay ‘Queen of the Air’ (1869) and attempted to explain how our interpretation of what we see is often manipulated by myth. The quest for dominance between humankind and the natural world was explored through an anecdote about a grass snake that chose a composting bin in which to lay its eggs. The camera’s steady lens moved from the interior to the exterior, creating juxtapositions between the domestic and the savage, the monstrous and the poetic.
Continuing on, passing through the working kitchen where a communal lunch was being prepared by the hosts at The Institute, a door led to an outside courtyard. Here, dancer and interdisciplinary artist Ben Skinner presented ‘A Familiar Foreign Language’ – an installation of found objects from the immediate environment, including, bricks, chairs and remnants of a dilapidated model village. The piece commented on the way that we negotiate our own shifting self-made scenarios, and aimed to draw attention to our physical presence within the installation’s temporary architecture. Skinner suggests we constantly adapt to new encounters using what he describes as our ‘thinking body’ – subconscious responses informed by an accumulation of past experience – and, by using his body as the material within a ‘making environment’, examined the inherent links between the mechanical, physiological and the psychological elements of space.
Arranged around the trestle tables laid out for eating, a number of artists were holding workshops and showing their work. Josh Bilton’s workshop ‘Shadow Sites’ explored the significance of objects that connect us to our past. Using a process of press moulding, he formed clay ‘artefacts’; fragile, residual shapes that echoed the erosion of time, traditions and the wider environment. Inviting local villagers to bring along family items and share their memories, the workshops provided a way for Bilton to begin a series of conversations that he intends, over time, to develop into an archive of personal histories.
Being temporarily embedded within such a primordial landscape, and having access to the rich resources of the Lawson Park collection, library and the Ruskin Museum, it’s perhaps inevitable that most of the Doremi residents turned their attention to notions of the temporal; human time and geological time. Lines of symmetry flowed throughout the exhibition – between skyline and contour, pattern and text, sound and movement, place and time – examining our unconscious responses to the world around us and, in doing so, blurring the boundaries between art and life.
Ruskin believed that art has a social purpose and The Institute, undressed of pretentions, represents the changing nature of a rural gallery as a space for engagement – as evidenced by the quickly-formed connection and diversity of the Doremi 2017 residents’ response to the place. Art is not a panacea that can heal all our global ills but, at a grass roots level, the beneficial outcome of promoting everyday artistic thinking radiates out into the community like ripples on a Lake District tarn.
All artworks created 2017 unless otherwise stated.
The Doremi Artist Residency and Open Weekend 2017 took place 9-15 October 2017.
Nominated Artists: Griet Bayaert, Josh Bilton, Niki Colclough, Aliyah Hussain, Kate Liston, Samra Mayanja, Meg Narongucha, Julia Parks, Katerina Prior, Carolina Rodriguez, Ben Skinner and Hope Stebbing.
Partners 2017: Association of Cultural Advancement through Visual Art (ACAVA), C-Art/Eden Arts, The Coniston Institute, East Street Arts, Grizedale Arts, Islington Mill Art Academy, The Newbridge Project, The Ruskin Museum.