Doremifasolasido 2016 residency and exhibition at Florence Arts Centre, Egremont, Cumbria was the second manifestation of an artist-led residency inviting emerging artists from around the country to Cumbria to forge links between artists and arts organisations working in urban and rural settings.
This year taking place at Florence Art Centre based in the former shower block of the now-disused Florence Mine, the selected participating resident artists were Pippa Eason, Mark Essen, Stephanie Farmer, Merlin Fulcher, Freya Gabie, Jackie Haynes, Louis-Jack Horton-Stephens, David Lisser, Bess Martin, Jocelyn McGregor, Elizabeth Porter, Lisa Risbec, Sarah Tew, Esmerelda Valencia, Lillian Wilkie, Joshua Wilson & Jacob Wolff.
Post-residency Jackie Haynes carried on conversations that developed around themes of materiality and how residencies help artists to develop their practices and compare their individual experiences with one another. Asking all participants the same questions, below are a selected collection of responses:
What material did you bring along to the residency?
Ranging from nothing, to what could be carried by one person on public transport, to more detailed accounts such as this by artist and residency co-organiser, Jocelyn McGregor: ‘I brought an existing artwork called ‘Jennifer’ that I’d made in response to one of the first R&D trips to Florence Arts Centre – when I met Jenni Payne and heard about the Florence Paintmakers. I mixed in a small amount of the Florence hematite pigment into body casts I’d been making, turning out legs like fingers of some sort of giantess’.
This was the first visit to Florence Mine for most. Without giving too much away, a strategy also adopted by the organisers to leave space for the full impact of the site on arrival, the materiality of the site was immediate and apparently irresistible. This is the sort of place which warrants a visit rather than relying on representations of it.
The commitment of bringing pre-prepared work, ideas and selected materials presents a situation where habits of mind and practice can be tested, stretched and developed, as indicated by David Lisser: ‘it was quite hard to choose what to include in my ‘sculptors survival bag’ as any particular choice would determine the kind of work I could make.’ Surviving with studio essentials was a consideration for many, including Sarah Tew, who packed her ‘staple diet: pencils, black block printing ink, food dyes, paper, blotting paper, chromatography paper, photo print outs of recent studio doings.’ Whereas conversely, I abandoned my original plans to explore the Cumbrian coastline for 30 shades of sticky-backed plastic and the materiality of the scrap yard. I was drawn to the faltering activity of the once essential components being in suspended animation until reactivated. Conversely and thinking collectively even prior to arrival was co-organiser Steph Farmer’s approach: ‘I brought absolutely loads of stuff but used very little of it. I partly brought things that I thought other artists might need’.
What material other than what you brought did you use?
Florence Art Centre is in walking distance of Egremont town centre, home of gurning and the annual Egremont Crab Fair. Located to the west of the Lake District National Park, it is reachable by the jaw-dropping Cumbrian Coastal Railway route.
This creates possibilities for picking up materials and inspiration along the way. Elizabeth Porter stopped off en route, ‘A local quarry gave me a block of the local pink sandstone’ and Lillian Wilkie used ‘bric a brac bought from charity shops in Egremont’ whereas Bess Martin amongst other things, used ‘clay, bought for a fiver from another artist on site.’
Almost without exception, participants used the plentiful locations, objects and substances left over from Florence Mine’s industrial past. Pippa Eason ‘used the Egremont Red pigment, in many forms. I used the pigment to paint with, which was used in a variant of pinks/reds in the work. I also salvaged grills from the scrap heap’.
For 90 years, up until 2007 when the Florence mine closed for good, iron ore was extracted from miles of underground tunnels by the thousands of miners who used to shower in what is now Florence Art Centre. Of great significance during the residency were the first hand accounts of the mine, from site owners Barbara and Gilbert Finlinson and Garry’s tour of the pit head, mine shafts and wells. On site resources extended even further, to technical support, event promotion, Florence Paintmakers’ workshop and equipment facilities, all facilitated with off-the-scale hospitality from the Florence community.
What material did you regret not bringing?
This question yielded the least results although Jocelyn McGregor felt that – ‘Oddly enough, I almost regret bringing my materials full stop… I couldn’t shake the feeling that I could do this on my own time – I felt that this project was about the group, and for that week, so was I.’ Mark Essen regretted not bringing books and Sarah Tew also identified a genuine lack but remained philosophical: ‘Large scale sheets of print-making paper (uncontaminated). However, the lack of this forced the work to remain linked to the site of making/process.’ Responses from artist/organisers reveal that theirs was quite a different experience from other participants, having a range of curatorial concerns to deal with as the rest of us merrily got on with the business of art production. To their credit, all aspects of the residency were managed seamlessly. This ranged from hosting the daily breakfast caravan to accommodating the coach load of friends and writers from Different Skies Publication arriving at Tarnside Caravan Park from London at 4am in horizontal rain. Close to Tarnside was Sellafield nuclear processing plant, which inspired regrets from Merlin Fulcher: ‘At the time I also wished I had brought a Geiger counter because this would have allowed me to analyse the campsite and arts centre for any radioactive particles. However on reflection such findings (if any) may have unduly coloured the artwork and limited other creative possibilities. Also interpreting the data in an interesting, responsible and thought provoking way may have been tricky without training in the equipment. I had planned to distribute sea kelp capsules (as protective tokens) to tour participants but I was unable to source these in time.’
How did you use the material you brought?
Josh Wilson, who describes himself as a ‘noticer’ more than a ‘maker’, ‘couldn’t help but think, what was I doing here? To just get something done and to grab my own insecurities by the scruff of the neck, I confronted the residual labour relations through an absurd performance that considered my male characteristics in relation to the public memory or idea of the male character types that worked in the mine. So I literally scattered every item of clothing of mine around the equipment, underpants and all, and then I stood on a make shift platform with a drum and haphazardly ‘sang’ the introductory leaflet to Florence Mine.’
The term material comes fully loaded with subjective apprehensions circling, for instance, around tools, processes, concluded work, documentation and theory. Freya Gabie, possibly both a ‘noticer’ and a ‘maker’, describes how she used different forms of material: ‘the water I pulled from the mineshaft I froze in the form of a rock (using an amazing mould!) that was pink in colour from the iron ore. This melted during the show leaving a red stained trace of the sculpture…. I also used my recorder to record loads of incredible stories from the miners Garry and Gilbert.’
Five days of largely uninterrupted productivity prior to a group show is arguably both luxurious and not very much time at all. Lisa Risbec responded: ‘I mainly used the paper, as a base for the pigment. I got obsessed with the shimmering pink tones left when the paper was dipped into the mounds of iron ore. I think I probably spent a disproportionate amount of time sat in the pink shed next to the pink digger rubbing the ore into the paper.’
The different rhythms of each participating artist in the group gradually became apparent, with the outcomes of artistic experimentation becoming visible around the site over the week. Dave Lisser: ‘I found an old wooden brake block that would’ve been used to clamp the steel cables that led down the shaft. It was quite clear that this had never been put into service and I thought there was a subtle poetry about an unused brake block. It was quite a beautiful shape and very reminiscent of totem carvings, so I decided to carve it a counter-part out of a discarded sleeper and see what I could draw from their relationship.’
How the range of outcomes would exist together in a group show seemed to organically find its way onto the agenda – or maybe this is an example of the seamless management. With the gallery at our disposal, it was clear that the exhibition would extend to the immediate surroundings. In preparation for his performance as well as evening walking workshop, Merlin Fulcher used his ‘brought materials to scour the internet for text and image resources which could help me produce content for my performance. Google Earth’s satellite imagery was very useful for recording my findings (using digital map pins) and also for investigating unknown objects on the horizon such as Sellafield’s dome-shaped experimental reactor.’
Describe new ways of working discovered on the residency:
[EP] ‘I gathered at Florence Mine, material that I will be using for the next few years.’
[LW] ‘Working intuitively and for pleasure. Satisfying impulses. Talking problems through earnestly with people who I didn’t really know but already felt very close to.’
[ME] ‘Communication in short terms, sniffing around others, exchange in ideas, thoughts, beliefs and views.’
[JW] ‘The relentlessness of discovery and making was very different to my kind of tangential drifting, but fascinating and inspiring to see.’
[PE] ‘I learned to think on my feet, no planning, no over thinking. I thought purely on a material basis, to discover how materials worked together.’
[EVL] ‘It was completely new to me to work on a video work consisting of sections of footage making up one sequence with a beginning and end and which was not dependent on the space in which it was shown.’
[SF] ‘I’ve started putting paper into clay which feels like a real development for me from my papier-mâché work… I think it was that big pile of pigment that made me want to make my papier-mâché more earthy.’
[LR] ‘Gathering and arranging, responding to a site and creating temporary and permanent sculptural collages, as well as writings on the context of the site which formed whilst I made work.’
[BM] ‘I am usually shy to work quickly, messily and experimentally around others but I felt comfortable and was able to do so and produce work I am proud of too.’
[FG] ‘Everything I learnt from the miners, listening to there stories and going on walks with them around all the local disused mines, it was incredible! ’
Describe reflections on differences or gaps between intentions and outcomes before and/or during and/or after the residency:
[LW] ‘I now recognise that I was guilty of another interesting tendency of artists on residencies – superficial engagement with a locale, exoticizing localness and performing a sort of impotent engagement. After all, what can one seriously achieve in a week, in a night, that can constitute engagement?’
[ME] ‘I kept looking at people and then looking at their work and thinking what does this work they’re making represent? I went away from that only to reflect on my work, in turn ask myself the same, what am I trying to represent, in turn was a daunting thought.’
[JH] ‘I went with the intention of producing work which presented it’s own material self rather than representing anything, with the ambition of privileging materiality over language. A series of micro-interventions, entitled ‘Decommissioned,’ involved, for example, the use of a currently off-road milk float as a vehicle for branding the Doremifasolasido residency. Having persuaded Jacob Wolff to spray in the letters missing from a rejected vinyl decal job, I arguably foregrounded language, not leaving enough work for the viewer, leaving a gap between intention and outcome.’
[EV] ‘The tasks set up were excuses to meet and interact with people in a new environment. At the same time I was worried that the situations would be too interesting or engaging for me want to make art of them.’
Artist and co-organiser Louis Horton-Stevens explains the name of the residency, also the title of a Kurt Schwitters collage: ‘Doremifasolasido was chosen to be the title of the residency whilst establishing the first instance of it in 2015 at the Merz Barn. The word seemed to capture the lyrical, all-embracing and whimsical nature of Schwitters’ practice. All of these qualities felt very relevant to what we were doing with the residency.’
Jackie Haynes is currently a PhD candidate at University of Cumbria Institute for the Arts, researching selected aspects of the legacy of Kurt Schwitters/Merz through art practice.
Images courtesy Doremifasolasido.
More information about the Doremifasolasido residency can be found here:
More information about the Florence Arts Centre can be found here:
Doremifasolasido, Florence Arts Centre, Cumbria.
20 August – 4 September 2016.