Guest Blog in association with Artist Hannah Fox
I grew up in the 1970’s ‘on the road’ with the legendary collective of artists Welfare State International, a wild and evolving band of musicians, performers, dancers, pyrotechnicians, sculptors and writers. We lived in caravans and toured the World making work in communities, creating art and wonder, giving, teaching and usually leaving behind a creative impact in the places we visited.
Since then, for 30 years, I have been a professional freelance Artist undertaking my own work; making films, digital animations, projections, theatre shows, installations and constructions, all in a public context. I am asked into settings; a community, a landscape or a conundrum that needs an artistic response, process and outcome and I utilise whatever art form best suits the idea, the place, the purpose and the budget.
Reflecting on my recent past work I remember a project devised and undertaken with Kate Drummond in Paisley.
A close up, hands-on, socially engaged art work involving food, shared tables, intimate conversations and communal vinegar bottles.
Everything about this work seems an impossibility now;
Over three days in March, 2019 we set up camp in Castelvecchi’s Fish & Chip shop in Paisley gathering true tales of adventure, love, life, loss and fish suppers from the cafe’s customers. In crisp white aprons we circulated around the tiny formica tables and slide in bench seats bringing tea, plates of chips and listening to tales told by the local customers visiting that lunchtime. All the stories where hastily noted down in our order books and then sifted and collated. We turned these stories into a newspaper – The Castelvecchi Chronicle. Hot off the press, the newspaper was then delivered back to the cafe for the classic ‘keep em warm and soak up the grease’ function. The wonderful proprieter, Alfredo Nutini, who made us welcome, made us chuckle and kept us well fed, wrapped the fresh daily orders at the Take-Away counter in The Castelvecchi Chronicle, to be taken home and read, warm and greasy, during supper.
We further presented our gathered work back in the chip shop one tea time delivering the ‘News of the Day’: a ten minute sketch show with an audience at the cafe tables. Everyone then tucked into a delicious poke of chips served up in the newspaper.
François Matarasso, artist, writer and researcher, author of ‘A Restless Art’ (London 2019) https://arestlessart.com writes about this project;
“On Saturday, the postman brought a copy of the Castelvecchi Chronicle, a newspaper of goings on, in and around a fish and chip shop in Paisley. It’s a delight. Little stories from customers, organised under rubrics such as “Lost and Found’, ‘Good News!’ and ‘Wish of the Day’. Glimpses of life, change, hopes and losses. The words were gathered over three days in March by Kate Drummond and Hannah Fox, who met in the 1990s at Glasgow School of Art. The newspaper – printed using food-safe inks – was used to wrap up fish suppers on a Thursday in late May and the artists performed a 10 minute news bulletin to the diners too. A simple idea, perfectly executed, complete unto itself. It’s what participatory art can be, at its best: quietly nourishing, like a good fish supper. “https://arestlessart.com/2019/06/17/castelvecchi-chronicle/
The Film, again in Paisley, again made in collaboration with Kate Drummond and this time also with spoken word Artist Cat Hepburn, was the first project of 2020 and the last pre-Covid,. It was the creation of a playful documentary film made with all the P7s at Gallowhill Primary School: The Gallowhill All Stars. This project required the essential, but now feared, human experiences of talking, playing, laughing and sharing:
Kate writes about it:
“It is a happy and humorous short film capturing a vital and transitional moment in the lives of these 2020 primary school leavers. The film celebrates each pupil’s identity and vision for their future. It was a joy to make. We had planned to have a ‘premiere’ with popcorn and a red carpet in the community centre – but this idea was scuppered by the lockdown.”
Work such as this screeched to an ugly halt at the onset of the pandemic.
Stunned for a while, I didn’t stand still for long;
The toad in the road which was Covid 19 and the lockdown months of 2020 were huge and disruptive but in many ways were another set of circumstances that I had to respond to. 30 years of freelancing means I take nothing for granted. No expectations of work arriving in a particular way or gigs being inevitable. Adaptability, imagination and resilience grown over decades of devising and delivering certainly served me well during the awful months that wiped out diary entries of projects that could no longer take place as planned. But from barren pages that briefly stopped me in my tracks, the same projects returned, this time needing to be rethought and reformed for the times we found ourselves in.
I had planned to create an installation and community film at The Festival of Thrift, Redcar. Months of work leading to the September event, my build was to be a Cardboard Cinema open to welcoming hundreds of families over 3 days. Instead I created an alternative piece: an animated film accompanying the community choir anthem to open the newly invented digital Festival of Thrift.
The project was undertaken from my studio and sent via We Transfer.
Due to create a rural touring theatre show with November Club in Northumberland from material developed in 2019, I headed to my studio and instead collaborated with the lead actor over several weeks at a distance of 300 miles. She against green screen and me directing and animating the worlds she existed in. The 5-part film, a hand-drawn adventure story of resilience and change, was taken on by several rural primary schools who were supporting isolated and battered children in lockdown in Northumberland.
The Fire Station
Having devised and facilitated workshops for Lakeland Arts across Cumbria early in 2020, in which communities created personal museums from paper, we kept the work safely in storage whilst seeking a new venue to exhibit in. Rather than the original Kendal Art Gallery, now closed to the public, we chose a beautiful drafty unused fire station in Windermere to show the work of 86 makers. “Museum of…” was safely visited by families over a month, one household at a time.
These projects and other digital conference contributions and design jobs meant a busy lockdown. All this output though, relied on experienced producers and commissioners who knew that the work must continue and that artists invariably bring creative solutions to overwhelming obstacles. Fundamentally they trusted me to adapt, consider the new context and come up with imaginative solutions. Good producers have moved swiftly with their thinking and have taken bold steps to find ways to keep delivering work to and with communities.
Working in the New Normal
In the dark months of Winter 2021, The Studio Morland, based in a tiny community in the Eden Valley, East Cumbria, reimagined their annual Festival of Light Light Up Morland. They commissioned me to make an online tutorial for the creation of hand-made lanterns. My considerations had to be how to create beautiful work from the kitchen table for free, with no resources or tools other than those already lying around at home and for others to enjoy during socially distanced night time walks. This was my response: Doorstep Lanterns
During the summer term of 2021 and with schools still under strict Covid measures, I devised and ran hands-on animation workshops from my studio live over Zoom for a month with Signal Film and Media based in Barrow-in-Furness. Four Cumbrian primary schools explored and celebrated the incredible archive of photographs of their area: The Sankey Family
Photography Collection, a priceless 70-year study of life, work and leisure in the North from 1900. The children, working in the classroom each on their own tablet, created moving and playful Digital Postcards, putting themselves into the scenes, to send as a gift and virtual ‘hello’ to the children in the other three isolated schools.
Adaptability has been my life boat during these troubling times. Changing tack, repeatedly, to navigate the rising tides and head o! the stormy challenges, happily not going under, has kept me and the work moving forward.
The door of my studio
link to blog article; https://cleurope.eu/2020/07/30/holding-on-to-wonder/