Monday, 23 December 2013

Art Academy reading group: Encyclopaedia of Informal Education

For our most recent Art Academy reading group we had a look at a couple of texts from the Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. An absolute treasure trove of shortish, Wikipedia-style articles, this online resource offers an accessible insight into important movements, concepts and ideas, alongside key thinkers, practitioners and figures, related to all aspects of alternative education past and present. One thing which is really good about the texts is that, while they are at the level of a summary, they offer reading lists at the end for anyone who wants to go away and explore further.

It was hard to know where to start, although 'The early development of group work' seemed like a sensible place, as it introduces the history of informal education in a British context, from nineteenth century ragged schools (a mass education movement, often charity-based, which took place in any space available in inner city areas, including railway arches) and boys' and girls' clubs (several former ragged schools and lads' club buildings still stand in Manchester, although most have been converted for other uses such as office space) to settlements (more to do with neighbourliness, and the educated middle classes going out and interacting with the poor).

This tied nicely into another text, which Maurice Carlin found particularly interesting and thought-provoking, around 'Friendship and education' and, while the former text offered useful context for the idea of the relationships which surround education, it was the second text which prompted more of a discussion. The text is concerned with the relationships which exist in educational exchanges between tutor and taught, and the resulting hierarchies and professional and personal boundaries. This led us to think about our own situation as an Art Academy, where there is no leader but each of us has different backgrounds and skills and we all learn from each other. We reflected on how our current set-up contrasts with our past experiences of education, particularly in the higher education context. In universities we thought there was far more of a teacher-student dynamic, and that it was more difficult to learn from our peers due to the inhibition which can arise in group contexts, when it is not always easy to express uncertainty or admit to feeling challenged by a text (reading groups are felt by some members of the Art Academy to be a challenge, but one that is useful in developing skills discussing texts; here the informal context is beneficial as we feel more comfortable expressing things we are not sure about than we would do in a university seminar situation, and it is generally agreed that developing our confidence in articulating ourselves is a key part of being in the Art Academy). It was suggested that a more fruitful model for higher education would be one in which there is more emphasis on lecturers as practitioners in their own right, which would help contribute to a more rounded relationship and view of lecturers that positions them not just as tutors but also as researchers with their own speciality (or, in the art school context, as practising artists).

Some interesting definitions of friendship, going back to Aristotle, are discussed in the 'Friendship and education' text, with three aspects of friendship highlighted: enjoyment of each other's company, being useful to one another and a common commitment to the good. One of these which at first seems strange is that friendships have a use value, but we suggested that an important element of friendship for us is trust – for example, knowing that you can rely on a friend to be completely honest with you when you ask them for an opinion on some work.

The 'Friendship and education' text also brings itself into the present day with a discussion of the increasing trend for education to be professionalised and for learners to become clients and customers – we noted that the large increase in university tuition fees in recent years has led to a heightened expectation that higher education degrees must have an easily measurable value, for instance leading to a clearly defined career path or a good salary. We felt that one of the key benefits of the Art Academy format of peer-led education, in contrast, is that we don't have any form of assessment or outcome to be worked towards; rather the value of the Art Academy experience is in the process, in doing things because there is a value just in doing them.

Some of the historical context outlined in the 'Friendship and education' text also led us to suggest some Art Academy activities for the coming year. One thing which was of interest was the nineteenth century notion of mutual improvement societies: instead of money being invested (as in friendly societies), these were based around education. We can conceptualise our group along similar lines to this: instead of money, members invest time, and their individual experience and expertise contributes towards a bank of knowledge which can be drawn on by the group when it is needed. Members of mutual improvement societies would sometimes deliver a paper on 'useful knowledge' – that is, anything of particular interest to them – before the subject was thrown open to discussion, enabling people who might not usually have chance to speak or argue to develop their verbal skills. We thought this was a fruitful way of sharing knowledge. Another similar activity it would be interesting to try out could involve a 'skill swap'.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Art Academy trip to the Art Party Conference

Members of Islington Mill Art Academy spent the weekend in the beautiful, bracing Yorkshire resort of Scarborough having a stand at the first Art Party Conference, hosted by artist Bob and Roberta Smith.
A selection of Islington Mill Art Academy members past and present wearing their sashes, especially made for the occasion of the Art Party Conference!
The event was filled with talks, performances, film screenings and hands-on art activities, as well as discussions around the nature, value and importance of art and art education, both in schools and in wider society, with contributions from artists, educators, students and other interested parties. It almost felt like the entire Manchester art scene had decamped to the seaside for the weekend, as there were so many representatives from galleries and artists there, but we also met people involved in interesting initiatives from other towns and cities around the country (and got a chance to catch up with past collaborators and former members who are now based elsewhere).

The Art Academy stand, in the glass-roofed Vitadome, displayed posters from the extensive Islington Mill Art Academy archive (2007-present) to show off the diversity of our activities.
On the stall were zines comprising a selection of images from the Art Academy archive (risographed by Islington Mill-based printers Mono and hand-collated in the car on the journey down, with an off-cut from some of member Maurice Carlin's prints folded around each one), alongside special hand-made badges (many of them depicting the face of Education Secretary Michael Gove MP). The Islington Mill sign was recycled from the recent Sluice Art Fair in London.
A visitor to the Islington Mill Art Academy stand in the Vitadome, Amelia Crouch from Leeds-based collective Black Dogs; we hope to link up with similar groups such as these in the future.
We asked visitors to answer some provocative questions about the nature and role of art, education, learning and ideas.
We also asked visitors to write down suggestions of books/films for our reading groups (including those that have been important to them and their development as artists).
Artist and former member Amy Pennington's bike was laden with Old Flo-themed merchandise such as badges and temporary tattoos.
Maurice Carlin shows off his temporary Old Flo-themed tattoo, inspired by Henry Moore's Tower Hamlets sculpture.
The day started with a march, which finished on the beach.
Lots of home-made banners were on display.
The grand hall was also filled with art and art education-themed banners and placards, as well as many portraits of Education Secretary Michael Gove MP.
Bob and Roberta Smith took to the stand to argue the importance of art education.
Special guest 'Michael Grove MP' also spoke (and then left the stand to a chorus of catcalls and slow handclaps).
Other activities on offer at the event included a 'Goveshy'!
ArtsAdmin's nail art stand transferred tiny images of inspirational feminist figures onto visitors' nails.
A performance took place overlooking a pretty end-of-day sky, with the soothing sound of the waves in the background.
The Spa venue was vast and grand and had a glittering view around the bay.
The day culminated, like most good things do, in some dancing.
Our trip was fun, thought-provoking, interesting, stimulating and tiring. In many ways the event felt like it was preaching to the converted, although it was a chance to share ideas on art and art education and to link up with other people we hadn't come across before. Hopefully the event will have showed that there is a critical mass of those who believe art is something important and worth prioritising in education. It will be good if future events and activities can build on this starting point and engage with even more people, not just those already active in the art scene. Hopefully people will have gone away inspired to do things themselves and to get involved in promoting their own events and initiatives.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Art Party Conference

Islington Mill Art Academy will be at The Art Party Conference on the 23rd of November in Scarborough.

 See you there!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

October Open Crit

In our recent open crits, we have been experimenting with how we document the discussions which take place. For our July open crit, we invited the 3 members who presented their work to write something about their particular experience of the crit, if and how they found it useful, and what they intended to do as a result. At last week's crit, we passed a laptop between us and notated various thoughts and ideas that occurred to us in response to the dialogue and the work being presented. This is what was written:

Constrained by the tools, constrained by language, not enough letters to make a full alphabet..

Decisions about how to present them in Scarborough.. is it a postcard book.. should it have a ribbon around.. how much should it be sold for..

New text written (coming from past work and experience) came in reposnse to the photography.  – a new age of poetry.   Presented books without photographs, as unfinished- but they work as simple poetry books too.

Few words could make images more complete. It’s a kind of new poetry. Text and pictures could work well together.

Made with constraints of materials and knowledge of process they are almost perfect replications of postcard books in form and feel. Ready to tear and share.

Condensed versions of longer chunks of text and meaning, stripped down to their bare essence yet still redolent of something bigger (can be read with or without accompanying images). Remind me of Alec Finlay’s Mesoteric poem series and installation Propagator at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, short plant-themed poems branching out from a stem of letters to reveal an inner meaning of the subject under discussing.

Photo albums, instead of annotating photographs with text, annotating text with photographs. Handmade/precious/editioned/throwaway. Creation of work with limitations. I like the idea of multiple endpoints for one project, each book a different form of the same idea. But how does this relate to the distillation process. Will the project end?  

The words are both concrete in their form and float as words.  With the images there is something like the anchor and relay that Roland Barthes talks about that possibly constrains. Words alone resonate poetically.  Remniscent of early conceptuaists like Joseph Kosuth


Jenny – charcoal drawings demolished with a wrecking ball – dust to dust – drawing something that becomes a ruin –

What really happens when you are drawing – there is a moment when you can’t see – a leap of afaith –

The tiny space at the very instant of drawing. presence, perception, absence of sight and memory: Derrida.

The link between blindness and the gesture of the hand (linked with the act of drawing in which we have a ‘blind’ moment) The gesture reaches out and also implores people.

Ruin in the portrait – attempt to make ones self ‘selfies’ which you can never achieve, it is already a ruin. They are a reminder that our sense of self is dependent on everything that is other to us.

Response to ruin: passivity, weeping – in history of art women often pictured crying, as blind people are pictured gesturing. Imploration rather than vision, in both cases?

Drawing is not only the transcription of what we see. Drawing could be thought as a process that makes visible the gap between mind and sight, between seeing and knowing.

Is the context of the work being transcribed onto the walls of an art school important?

Drawing as absence – drawing starts as an absence, but this gap is never fully filled – there is impossibility of ever attaining completion, and of fully knowing/closing the gap. Ties into idea of ruin – something already has something of its future ruin in it, even as it is being created.

Friday, 30 August 2013

27.08.13 Reading Group - "The Commerce of the Creative Spirit" from The Gift by Lewis Hyde

From now on each reading will be chosen by a member of the Art Academy from books or journals that they already own - bypassing the problem of sourcing texts for free, and we will take it in turns to choose a text. This will also function as a way to get to know each other better via our reading habits, or at least the kinds of texts that we collect and intend to read.

Present: Sara Nesteruk, Lauren Velvick and Natalie Bradbury

For this month's reading group Sara chose an extract from The Gift by Lewis Hyde entitled "The Commerce of the Creative Spirit", presenting a theory of creativity that depends on the bestowing and receiving of gifts. The artist receives the gift of inspiration, and with their creativity makes an artwork which they must then give away; "The gift must stay in motion. 'Publish or perish' is an internal demand of the creative spirit, one that we learn from the gift itself, not from any school or church". p.148

Hyde imagines mysterious origins for inspiration and creative talent; "there are few artists who have not had this sense that some element of their work comes to them from a source they do not control" which we discussed in terms of intersecting meanings, and the 'flashes of inspiration' that they engender, when research comes together and starts to make sense.

Natalie raised the issue of creativity decaying somehow, if you don't make adequate use of it; "it is the talent which is not in use that is lost or atrophies"p.148, discussing strategies for making when you don't feel particularly gifted. In practical terms, there are creativity exercises that you can do that might not provide assurance, but do make it more likely that the afore-mentioned intersection of meaning, or flash of inspiration will take place.

Hyde also approached the problem of 'writer's block', citing Allen Ginsberg, and suggesting that creative work requires some time prior to, and separate from evaluation for 'the gift' to flourish; "all art involves evaluation, clarification, and revision. But these are secondary tasks. They cannot begin (sometimes they must not begin) until the materia, the body of the work, is on the page or on the canvas."p.147 We wondered what this could mean in terms of the 'crits' that we conduct once-a-month, and how we can know when a work is ready to be critiqued, or when it is past the point where it can be, and is ready to be published - can you bestow a work, and then take it back to work on some more?

Sara described how she had initially chosen this extract because she is interested in the relationship between the maker and receiver of art, and art as a form of communication. In the text Hyde discusses this in terms of individual artists, giving the example of Ezra Pound directing his 'gift' toward a canon of previous artists stretching back in a lineage through history, and Pablo Neruda dedicating his poems specifically to the working people of Chile. Here, the act of bestowal is discussed in the abstract, and can mean different things, without referring to one particular action.

There are times when the text seems contradictory, or overly romantic, which we found hard to reconcile with the practicalities of living and making. Natalie cited a Ginsberg quote used by Hyde, that seems antithetical to the concept of bestowing; "write things down which you will not publish and which you won't show people. To write you can actually be free to say anything you want...It means abandoning being a poet. abandoning your careerism"p.147 that is nevertheless good, though difficult advice. Sara suggested that the ideas presented in the quote could be applied within any creative project, whether as part of paid work or not, in terms of a mindful attitude toward research, and avoiding a preoccupation with goals.

Finally, we considered the concept of an unwanted gift - a selfish kind of gift. In bestowing or publishing a work, how much is the recipient considered, and how does the meaning of a thing change when it transitions from private to public, or mine to yours/ours?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Crit and Collaborative text for Portfolio NW

As part of 'Portfolio Northwest' the current exhibition at the Bluecoat gallery in Liverpool, we are writing a collaborative text in response to our recent open crit, themed around auto-biography. As a starting point, we've taken an artwork by Art Academy member Jared Szpakowski, a blog as a daily visual diary:

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Art Academy open crit: July

To document July's Open Crit, we decided to ask the 3 Art Academy members presenting work to write something about their experience of the critique:

Sarah Hill showed some recent film works constructed from found footage on

The group crit was an opportunity for me to introduce some of my semi abstract film work in relation to ideas I'm just beginning to develop for a a new commission. This will be a visual accompaniment for a 40 min soundscape made up of extracts from various electronic compositions for radio/t.v by Delia Derbyshire who worked for the BBC radiophonic workshop in the 60s and 70s. The invitation is open for my personal interpretation of the work, free from the original contexts/intentions of the music.
We discussed my interest in collaboration as a comfort zone. I became aware of the fact that despite working with musicians on my films, the process is still fairly isolated and lacking in conversation. This has since led me to consider how I might like to instigate new projects differently in the future, perhaps working with other filmmakers. The team appeared to view the D.I.Y nature of my films as a positive thing, which I found very encouraging. I touched on early ideas I've had for the project, which include manipulating found footage. The source/original meaning of found footage was discussed as an important conceptual factor; not something to be overlooked. Additionally lots of interesting names were brought up in reference to my ideas, such as Douglas Gordon and Chris Marker, which has helped to kick start my research.
It was great for me to have fresh eyes on my work. I also found that having to articulate my ideas, as well as put a narrative on how my ideas have led to this point, has since shed light on the ways in which I perceive/approach my work, which will help as I begin this new project.

Lorna Mollart gave us an overview of works in sculpture made during the past year and presented some small plaster and drawing wall-based works:

The crit group discussion was greatly beneficial to me and has opened up some new possibilities that I had not thought of. In my studio space I had started to feel that maybe I should revert back to painting, struggling for space and feeling the restrictions of this, I had decided to stop making sculpture. During my presentation Rachel Goodyear suggested that I should think about space, location and places I could go to make new work. This led to the group making some interesting comments about the possibilities of taking my work into public places, abandoned buildings, doorways or derelict areas. The crit helped me to make a working plan for new ideas and how I can expand on my progress.  In the upcoming months I will explore outdoor spaces, making sculpture in public places, documenting the experience through photography and possibly film.

Jackie Haynes presented some new fabric works, including a stretchable 'tape measure':

The image (pictured above) shows testing the physical rigour and ideas behind 'The Empiricist' - an outsized stretchy tape measure for metaphorical measuring. The crit group discussed the performative possibilities of this and other allied ideas, centred around the premise of inventions created behind the shed door. Lorna's idea of using the markers against the photographed background, in this picture might indicate the attention span of Jenny and Rachel, taking the heatwave into account!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Reading Group 2.7.13 "A Marginal system: Collecting" by Jean Baudrillard

Present: Maurice Carlin, Jared Szpakowski, Rachel Newsome, Sara Nesteruk, Lauren Velvick.

Text: 'A Marginal System: Collecting' from The System of Objects (1968)

Our text had been suggested by Rachel Goodyear as an accompaniment to her work, and because it would be interesting to discuss in light of work relating to collecting that Jared had presented at a previous crit. Due to having to source our texts on-line for free, we ended up reading two different translations, but Rachel Newsome, who was already familiar with Baudrillard stepped in to outline the key points of the text as she saw them;

- Objects have a use-function and also function as a subject that we project on-to. Objects are "put to use and possessed"*
- Possession and collection is a way of creating order and certainty in life. "Objects in a collection become poetry"*
- Collecting is never about one object; individual objects only make sense in the context of the collection.

Morry wondered: Do objects have a value specific to them?

Rachel thought that according to Baudrillard; no, a collection is acquiring infinite versions of the same object.

The conversation turned to how other types of collection, eg: the collection of a fashion designer, might relate to Baudrillard's conception of the collection. Rachel recounted how one of her favourite designers had admitted to creating a collection as a barrier against the real world. How, too, could this apply to people who create, rather than collect objects, and what difference does it make whether they keep them, or sell them, or give them away?

With our two different translations, we were a little confused as to how to understand the tone of the text, and how it might relate to lived experience, as Rachel articulated; "if you collect you're an idiot, but if you don't you're even more impoverished"*. However, if we consider collecting as a function of the imagination, without a moral dimension - no should, or shouldn't - it makes more sense in every-day terms; "if you weren't allowed to dream you would get ill - if you weren't allowed to collect you would get ill"*.

Morry brought up his mother as an example of somebody who doesn't collect at all, and is completely unsentimental about objects; how does somebody like this fit in to the theory, if they do at all, if collecting is essential to health - can it be more abstract, and could a person collect minimal spaces free of clutter? Or, if collecting stems in part from a fear of death, could religious faith temper the impulse? Rachel brings up the idea of an inherent gap between what we know, and what we don't know, which we all strive to fill in different ways, one of which may be collecting. We considered how objectlessness is generally supposed to infer spirituality, or a zen-like state, prompting a discussion of how Michael Landy's Breakdown had enacted these ideas, with the artist referring to destroying all his objects as a way of "getting rid" of himself.

Rachel raised the issue of the de-materialised collection, perhaps now the most common sort, whether it be mp3's or digital images. These kinds of collections are built around being shared, with the format making it particularly easy to do so, and the lines between identity and object becoming even more blurred than with a more traditional sort of collection. Collecting on-line can also be aspirational and can encompass research, providing readymade collection on sites like pinterest and tumblr. Then, also, the phenomenon of collecting 'likes' or 'views', which missed out the object entirely in it's direct validation, raising the spectre of collecting in it's most fearsome form, as a function of jealousy - what about the effect of collecting on others?

There can be no doubt that the internet has changed the parameters of collecting, we can now carry massive collection around with us - however, even though curating a personality on-line seems like a way to gain ultimate control, the way we think we're presenting ourselves isn't the same as how others understand it, perhaps even intensifying the lack of control and uncertainty that Baudrillard cites as what drives us to collect in the first place.

* All quotes are remembered from the text by the speaker and then remembered by the note taker, so not to be taken as accurate.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Art Academy open crit 07:06:13

It was decided that June's open crit should be split into two smaller crits, to enable Natalie Bradbury to present a research poster and receive feedback before a research event on June 12, and to allow for a 'field-trip' to Rachel Goodyear's installation in Macclesfield as part of Barnaby Festival later in the month.

The crit took place in Maurice Carlin's temporary space in a warehouse on Regent Road trading estate, just behind Islington Mill, where Morry will be undertaking a print-making and performance project over the course of the summer, coinciding with Manchester International Festival. The space is currently almost entirely empty, and painted off-white, so Natalie's A2 size poster was the only point of visual interest when stuck on the bare walls.

Natalie explained that the poster being presented was a smaller version of an A1 poster she has had to produce for a research event at the School of the Built and Natural Environment at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, where she recently started a PhD with the title 'Pictures for Schools: Art, Education and Reconstruction in Post-War Britain'. She explained that Pictures for Schools was an annual exhibition in London (and later Wales) which took place annually from 1947, until at least the late 1960s, and enabled county councils and local education authorities to buy original artworks for display in schools. 

Natalie passed around two catalogues from Pictures for Schools exhibitions in the late 1960s, and explained that the font used for headings on the poster was the same font as used for the 1967 exhibition, and that the style of the poster mimics the exhibition catalogue. This was seen as being a nice touch, however it may not be obvious to those who are not familiar with the catalogues.

The crit was a chance to discuss the effectiveness of the poster, gauge people's reactions who were not familiar with the research and suggest things which could be done better. For example, there was debate over the images being in black and white, and whether they fitted in with the colour scheme or whether they would be more effective in colour. Partly this was because of the early stage of the research, and the necessity of reusing relatively low-resolution images from the internet as opposed to original images. Natalie has also started a research blog to document her project as it progresses, and there was agreement that it should host a gallery of images relating to Pictures for Schools, and that it would be good to see images of some of the work in situ in schools in the future. Sara said it could be nice to see how the project progresses through posters, if more posters are made in future, so that a collection of posters can be displayed together at the end of the research.

It was suggested that some of the text in larger font sizes was not in a logical place, and that perhaps the poster should be arranged differently to prioritise some information over other information (the bibliography was seen as taking up too much space). There was also discussion about the extent to which the poster could be seen as a poster, or whether it was more of an information sheet, and what the conventions of such posters are (for example, containing only 300-500 words, readable from at least 2 metres, headings no less than 32 pt and main text no less than 18 pt, main points at eye level and being able to read the poster in 3-4 minutes) and to what extent conventions can be flouted to make an effective or stand-out poster. There was agreement that it would be interesting to see how people interacted with the poster at a research event, and how much time people spent with it. Natalie said that those presenting a poster are often required to give a 5 minute presentation too, and sometimes also choose to make handouts for anyone wanting further information, and Jared suggested perhaps just making tear-off strips of contact details.

The research poster was a format that most people present had not come across before. Lauren Velvick mentioned that Paper Gallery at Mirabel Studios will be holding an exhibition of alternative ways of presenting research later in the year, by researchers from MIRIAD at Manchester Metropolitan University, which led to a passing discussion on alternative ways of communicating research such as performance lecturing and video essays, and the relationship between art and research.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Art Academy reading group: The Most Difficult Thing Ever, Kevin Boniface

For last night''s Art Academy reading group we turned our attention towards a type of text we hadn't looked at before: the blog. The Most Difficult Thing Ever, which is written by Huddersfield writer, artist and postman Kevin Boniface, was suggested by Art Academy member Jared, as he has seen Boniface read from his blog at events and once put on an exhibition of his work at Cow Lane Studios in Salford. Jared also has copies of Boniface's books, Lost in the Post and The Most Difficult Thing Ever (which is based on the blog).

Boniface uses things he has seen, heard and observed whilst delivering the mail to record snapshots of everyday life and ordinary people in West Yorkshire. In some ways akin to the work of photographers such as Martin Parr and Tom Wood, who present a particular version of England and its people (often Northern), his vignettes elevate the minutiae of life in Huddersfield momentarily to the status of art. Written in a conversational tone, sometimes this appears in a style similar to short stories and sometimes simply as lists of objects and experiences. We remarked how the writing style is non-judgemental of the people and places it references (though it is sometimes possible to read a wry humour just below the surface), and does not seem to belong in any particular genre – although Sara said the style reminded her of Christopher Isherwood. Many of the posts are also accompanied by single-shot, one-viewpoint videos which add visual imagery to Boniface's observations. We talked about how delivering the post enables Boniface to fit both work and artistic production into his life, and how the two could feed into each other, mentioning another postman who found his day job to be rich source material for his writing, Charles Bukowski, as a literary precedent.

We also discussed the unique relationship between members of the public and people performing services such as delivering the post, and the fact that for a few seconds of every day these semi-strangers become part of your private domain. Although you may feel that you get to know someone such as a postman on some level because of the routine of seeing them at the same time every day, in reality it is a relationship that exists almost entirely on the surface, with interaction essentially limited to 'hello' or 'thank you'. We each added examples from our own experiences such as having a paper round, doing building work and having plumbers in the house. Sometimes these relationships can be rewarding – being able to walk up driveways and garden paths normally off-limits, seeing glimpses into other people's houses and how they live, getting Christmas boxes from old people – and sometimes awkward – not knowing how to act around other people who are present in the house for a long period of time, in whose expertise one has placed one's trust to provide a service. We wondered whether the members of the public Boniface mentions and makes small observations about are aware that he draws on his post round as inspiration – perhaps from publicity relating to Boniface's stature as a writer (he won a Blog North award in 2012 ) – and said this would make us feel self-conscious!

Jared suggested that Boniface's artwork, which partly takes the form of collages based from lines from his blog, might benefit from being shown in a venue other than a gallery, perhaps in a more everyday environment. Suggestions put forward were a post office or sorting depot, or the SHED gallery on an allotment in Levenshulme. Sara remembered seeing an Artangel exhibition in a former sorting office in London a few years ago, and recalled the sense of suspense and surprise created by the space, however Natalie and Lisa, who had visited the 2012 Liverpool Biennial venue on Copperas Hill, a former Royal Mail depot, felt that the atmosphere and characteristics of the building, although now disused, overshadowed some of the work.

We discussed the possibility of asking Boniface to join us as a guest at one of our crits, and making links with artists and other creative groups in the West Yorkshire area.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Art Academy Crit: April

The most recent Art Academy crit took place on Friday 5th April.
Present were Natalie Bradbury, Maurice Carlin via Skype, Rachel Goodyear, Sara Nesteruk, Rachel Newsome, Lisa Risbec, Lauren Velvick, Jenny Walden, Jen Wu.
Four presentations were given by Lauren, myself, Rachel and Rachel.

1. Lauren Velvick
Lauren described a current project documenting paintings by a late uncle. She presented three of his painting and the blog of the project.

Lauren spoke about her uncle's schizophrenia, how it had affected his formal art training and his painting. She explained that the blog is not curated, and is an attempt to get the painting into a situation where they are seen. She described the collection of around 200 paintings on card and canvas, including some religious works and self portraits.

There was some discussion about Lauren's intentions for the works, how they might be exhibited and whether or not they would be sold. Lauren spoke about sorting the work into themes or a series, possible venues for exhibiting, and the possibility of raising money for a housing association that had helped her uncle. The Museum of Everything was suggested as a point of reference and interest.

2. Sara Nesteruk
I presented a proposal for a new animated film and showed a previous animated short The Accident.

I spoke about the subject matter for the new film, which will tell the story of the Ukrainian famines in the early 1930's. Research will be collected initially by collecting bread recipes from elderly Ukrainian people. I talked about my own interest and connection with the material, and the link with the previous film.

We discussed approaches to storytelling, including a reference to Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. The relationship between form and content was discussed, and the possibilities and significance of working with bread as a metaphor. Suggestions were given about accessing Ukrainian communities in northern Manchester, and a possible residency application was discussed.

3. Rachel Goodyear
Rachel presented a work in progress for a forthcoming solo show at the International 3 Gallery in Manchester. The work is a large scale drawing on paper in three sections.

Rachel spoke about the scale of the new work, which is much larger than usual, and the challenges and opportunities this was presenting. The discovery of a new process of working was described, using collages of smaller drawings. She described the themes of her work in general as an interest in the macabre, but also a celebration of life, a balance between the beautiful and the gory.

We talked about the themes behind Rachel's pieces, and work by Piero della Francesca was suggested as a possible reference. The new technique that Rachel is using reminded her of using sticker books in her childhood, and this idea resonated with the group. The subtleties of the process were discussed, and the possibilities it may provide for some performance based practice.

4. Rachel Newsome
Rachel read aloud a recent short story: The Holy of Holies.

Rachel described her works in general as stories that have an allegorical aspect, and talked of an interest in creating other worldly environments. She explained that the title was inspired by a Kafka quote, and she described the symbolism of the clothes in the story. The main character was described as an artist going on journey, searching for a truth.

The group talked about the pleasure of listening to stories being read aloud, and Rachel mentioned another project she is involved in called Don't Tell Stories. The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol was mentioned as a reference and suggested as a possible future text for a reading group. Some discussion was had around the meaning of colour in the story, and the use of clothes to construct or deconstruct identity.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Art Academy Reading Group: The Mother Archetype, Carl Jung

Following an Art Academy discussion on fairytales and myths and symbols, we collectively decided it may be of interest to read some writing by the twentieth century psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and a chapter on the Mother Archetype was put forward. On reading the text, it was apparent how embedded some of Jung’s ideas now are in popular culture, as well as critical and cultural theory.
Art Academy member Rachel Newsome had read a lot of writing by Jung before, and likes Jung as he was a paradoxical thinker who was really visionary. She explained that for Jung archetypes, of which the mother archetype is just one, are a representation of a collective unconscious. 

The mother archetype Jung describes is all encompassing, manifested in aspects of nature as well as concepts such as the mandala – although some of us were not familiar with the idea of the mother as an oven! – and has both positive and negative elements. Jung’s chapter on archetypes appears to approach the mother archetype in two parts: first, by describing some background to the mother archetype as found in myths and religions (Jung points out that the mother archetype is not necessarily your mother), and second by describing the uses of archetypes in psychoanalysis and what they can reveal about the patient, who projects them onto the psychiatrist. 

Whilst Jung uses ideas from religion and spirituality, as a psychoanalyst he approaches the idea of the archetype in a scientific way; Art Academy member Sara Nesturek suggested that whereas religion projects outwards, for analysts archetypes’ value is in their ability to reveal what is inside ourselves.

We also discussed other archetypes, for example the trickster: today, pranksterism is often used in social activism to make a serious point (see also the roots of carnival, when everything is turned upside down for a day to reveal truths about the social order). Rachel suggested that people have a bit of each archetype in them, but certain circumstances can knock them out of balance. She is a fashion tutor, and has used ideas about archetypes with her students. She previously taught journalism, and showed students how the media is all about archetypes (for example, it is easy to identify popular figures like the trickster and the virgin whore).We discussed whether, in fact, we can manipulate archetypes, and aspects of archetypes, to shape the way we project ourselves to others. It was suggested that only through Jungian analysis are we made aware of projecting these archetypes, which can be an empowering process.

We were also interested in Jung’s reference to the anima and animus: the idea that men possess a feminine aspect and women a masculine aspect. Rachel said that, as an author, the idea of the animus is a useful tool for thinking both about different sides of her characters and herself as an artist

We agreed that we would be interested in reading more writing by Jung in future, for example about dreams as well as other archetypes. It was suggested that Man and His Symbols could be a good starting point as it is accessible, and that there are some good three minute videos on Youtube by scholars of Jungian theory.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

IMAA Reading Group 26.02.13: New Schools

Lauren Velvick, Sara Nesteruk, Maurice Carlin, Natalie Bradbury and Lisa Risbec
This essay was featured in Frieze and comprised of a series of interviews with 'new schools' across the world, including the Art Academy.

It was really interesting reading the text together and raised discussions around many aspects including; the naming of things, if you name something does that mean it's taken more seriously? Being radical for the sake of it versus being useful. The common factor of these schools - is it connections and community? Do you need to attend a physical space to experience that or does it happen online too? We also discussed participatory art, and the artists role/ motivation in it.

We didn't come to any firm conclusions but it's a topic that I would definitely like to pick up in the future, I find the all of the alternative schools interesting in their own way and think there are definitely elements we could incorporate into the Art Academy.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Art Academy Open Crit 15.03.13

The most recent Art Academy crit group was a long session, enabling presentations to be made of two ongoing projects being undertaken by Art Academy members, Natalie Bradbury and Jen Wu, and allowing for in-depth discussion of these projects. Natalie Bradbury explains:

Natalie Bradbury: 'Woman's Outlook: A surprisingly modern magazine?' 

Whilst I am not an artist and therefore don't have a practice as such, I thought that the Art Academy open crit might be a good time to practice a talk I have been working on called 'Woman's Outlook: A surprisingly modern magazine?', which I am going to be doing at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum next Thursday evening (21 March). I really needed a run-through as I have never spoken in public before.

I started by explaining that the magazine Woman's Outlook was published by the Co-operative Press between 1919 and 1967 along with a number of other specialist magazines aimed at the co-operative movement. I explained that my interest in magazines is partly linked to publishing my own zine, the Shrieking Violet, as well as my love of twentieth century history and interest in Manchester's historical reputation as the 'Fleet Street of the North' (Woman's Outlook was based first in Manchester city centre, then in Old Trafford). I spent several days reading through volumes of Woman's Outlook in the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester and found it really hard to focus my findings down because of the amount of interesting information I found! However, I decided to discuss the ways in which I thought Woman's Outlook was modern as a magazine – firstly, because I think that much of the content, such as recipes, fashion, fiction and articles about issues affecting women, isn't that different to the subjects covered in women's magazines today; second, because many of the challenges facing society today, such as unemployment, lack of affordable housing and challenges to women's reproductive rights, are worryingly similar to those experienced in the early-to-mid-twentieth century; and finally because the magazine's political and editorial stance appeared to be ahead of its time on a number of issues such as abortion, family planning and divorce.

I had initially tried to make a powerpoint to present my talk, but really struggled so decided to go back to what I knew and present the history of Woman's Outlook and some of the key themes which emerged in the form of a magazine. I then showed some examples of pages from the only modern-day women's magazine I read, Stylist, to show what sorts of topics are thought to be important to women today. Each person who was present at the crit was given a copy of my magazine about Woman's Outlook, and I also projected the pages of the magazine digitally via PDF hosting site Issuu, which allowed me to flick through the pages as I talked.

Whilst the audience was quite different to the one I am expecting at my talk – who I am anticipating will have more of a specialist interest/prior knowledge of the co-operative movement and its history – the crit was a really good opportunity to practice public speaking, and gain feedback on how I presented my ideas. People who heard the talk seemed to be really interested in the history of the magazine, and some of the themes I highlighted such as the shift towards a consumer society in the 1950s, higher living standards and the move towards individualism also prompted some good questions about things such as advertising and a really interesting discussion about the role of male/female-targeted magazines today. Of particular interest was the way in which the co-operative women's movement was a means of self-education; something that as members of the Art Academy we are all interested in! We discussed the lack of emphasis today on skills such as public speaking, which the co-operative women's movement aimed to instill in its members.

One pertinent suggestion was that the type of feminist viewpoint espoused by Woman's Outlook is now seen more on blogs such as Jezebel and the F-Word than in printed magazines; unlike magazines, most blogs are not dependent on advertising to remain in print and therefore do not have to avoid being too controversial. Importantly, we discussed the extent to which Woman's Outlook and present-day magazines such as Stylist are really comparable – although some of the content may appear similar on the surface, there are key differences. Woman's Outlook was a mouthpiece for politics and campaigning, whereas Stylist's occasional investigative and issues-based content mask the fact it is really just one big advert for consumer lifestyles. Additionally, Woman's Outlook was paid-for and had a very defined audience, whereas Stylist is handed out free. I also took on board some comments such as showing bigger versions of pictures of pages/covers from Woman's Outlook.

Jen Wu: 'The Wall' 

We then returned to more of an art-based discussion, as Manchester-based artist Jen Wu presented and projected images of her ongoing project 'The Wall'. Jen has been awarded money from the Chinese Arts Centre and Henry Moore Foundation and is currently in the process of applying for Arts Council funding to realise the project, which aims to stabilise a brick wall on the derelict Old Bank Theatre on Chapel Street, Salford which is due to be knocked down along with a number of other buildings as part of the ongoing regeneration of the area. It is hoped that one redbrick wall will be retained, then bricklayers and members of the local community will be invited to help dismantle it and rebuild it elsewhere in the vicinity in an act of 'creative DIY', accompanied by celebratory 'rave' parties (this references Jen's past projects, which have involved working with musicians and DJs). The wall will function as a public sculpture, but could also be the first wall of something longer-lasting, for example a new facility like a community centre. The focus of the project is not just on demolition, but action and rebuilding, a cycle of activity that will show how people can physically change their area and celebrate the past at the same time as looking to the future.

Jen, who arrived in Manchester in 2011 to undertake a residency at the Chinese Art Centre, described the evolution of her practice, from getting into sculpture during her undergraduate degree in the United States to moving to the United Kingdom to do a Masters, starting temporarycontemporary, a successful artist-led space in Deptford, south London and then transforming the visitor experience of some of London's established art institutions such as the ICA and Royal Academy by, for example, turning the ICA into a nightclub. Jen traced key events in her development as an artist, including going to China on residency and becoming interested in the way industry had been transported to China, as well as influences such as music and American land art.

When she came to Manchester, Jen started researching the history of former Manchester landmarks, now demolished, such as the Hacienda nightclub (now rebuilt as apartments) and the notorious Hulme Crescents, once the venue for famous parties, becoming interested in narratives of regeneration, demolition and starting over again. She started to document the demolition of buildings, a process she describes as 'looking like warfare', and became interested in the way sites acquired value when solid matter such as buildings had disappeared. One such building was the former Salvation Army centre Stella Maris near Islington Mill in Salford, where Jen got to know the demolition crew and the security guard, who let her take bricks from the demolition of the building. This led to Jen taking numerous buses around Salford to look at various walls, and realising how much of Salford is made of brick.

Jen explained that she is interested in the ways in which spaces where people used to come together, such as nightclubs, have been destroyed, and thought that moving a wall would be a way to bring people together at the same time as acknowledging the DIY spirit operating in places such as Islington Mill. She explained that the project is constantly shifting, and sometimes seems impossible, but she doesn't think it could take place anywhere else. The Chapel Street buildings are due to be demolished soon, but Jen hopes that the project can coincide with Manchester International Festival in July, when events will also be taking place at the Mill. Jen's past career was an important part of the way in which the project was presented to the group, and we discussed how Jen should bring this development of her practice out in her application for funding. We also noted that there are a diverse range of people living and working in the area around Chapel Street, from council residents to tenants of new flats and artists working at the Mill.

Friday, 1 March 2013

I.M.A.A Reading Group 12.02.13: Theodor Adorno - Punctuation Marks

Adorno's Punctuation Marks was written in 1953, and playfully discusses the nature of punctuation in written language, with references to ancient usage and the personification of certain marks. I had come across this essay whilst conducting research into the work of Rosa Barba, an artist who is interested in gaps and breaks, and suggested it for the reading group. I thought it would be interesting to discuss a piece of writing about writing, and also to read writing about writing, then, with this particular reading group being punctuated by pancakes and late arrivals, we had some compelling, fun and anecdote-driven discussions.

Present: Lauren Velvick, Marcelle Holt, Natalie Bradbury, Maurice Carlin, Sara Nesteruk and Hannah Leighton Boyce.

The essay itself is much jollier, and more flowery than many of us expected from Adorno, poetically expressing the often subtle, yet indispensible function of punctuation for the written word. Initially, it seemed like it was the writers in the group who had enjoyed this essay the most, perhaps finding a cameraderie in this indulgently in-depth analysis of, and story about these marks, which can make all the difference to a piece of writing regardless of it's content.

By having had our attention focussed on punctuation in general, the discussion turned to the most common ways in which we write in our every-day lives. Leading to questions about how punctuation is used in social media such as twitter, and other short communications. Marcelle, who had performed research into twitter, in terms of the performance of identity for her undergraduate dissertation, recognised how some users are better at tweeting than others. What, we wondered, made a good tweeter, and would they also be considered to be a good writer, by dint of their twitter skills?

It was noted how within text messages, when they first became a ubiquitous form of communication, punctuation was famously abandoned in favour of a form of written language in which many, if not most words were shortened, for essentially practical reasons. Text messages are also private, which can be seen to remove the performative element associated with twitter, however, anecdotal evidence suggests that with certain of our peers, there would be a performative element to text messages, whereby they would function as banter, or a form of 'jamming'. Good writing, it seems, is appreciated no matter its form, and a perceptive use of punctuation is an integral part of this.

Adorno refers to punctuation marks as "friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language" linking their use in written language, to how written music is punctuated to indicate the length of notes and breaks. Indeed, how punctuation is used by a writer alters the pace and flow of a text, and Adorno's analysis here is quite beautiful. His characterisation of individual punctuation marks also belies a sort-of wistful affection for these abstract and dispensable - as we have seen in the case of text messages - marks, which may be overlooked for their importance in enriching a piece of writing with mood and subtle meanings.

"An exclamation point looks like an index finger raised in warning; a question mark looks like a flashing light or the blink of an eye. A colon, says Karl Krais, opens its mouth wide: woe to the writer who does not fill it with something nourishing. Visually, the semicolon looks like a drooping moustache; I am even more aware of its gamey taste. With self-satisfied peasant cunning, German quotation marks (« ») lick their lips."(p. 1)

"a drooping moustache"

The text is not an objective analysis of punctuation by any means, and according to Adorno's own interpretation, nor could it be, for the understanding and use of punctuation is as personal as the appreciation of music. In line with this, the majority of our discussion centered around how we experience written language, especially as there has been an explosion in new ways to communicate via the written word since this essay was written. We observed how on-line, punctuation is vital in conveying the complexities of what is being said, and usages have evolved in innovative and specific ways in different communities. This is befitting of the opinionated way in which Adorno discusses punctuation, and whilst he occasionally refers to changes in usage negatively, as a whole the text seems to be a piece describing Adorno's own experience of punctuation, rather than a treatise on correct usage.

Adorno's Punctuation Marks is available for free on Ubuweb