The functional and the functionless

An exploration of the relationship between science and art.

The compatibility between art and science is complex, while they often seek each other to develop ideas through using the others knowledge or skills, it can be unclear how the comparatively useless can benefit the useful.

Art has a long history of questioning and challenging the function of everyday objects. Pioneered by Duchamp through his concept of the “readymade’ in the 20th century, depriving objects of function has become a common way to define art. As explains the difference between the tables used by Martin Creed in Work No. 928 – stacked in a pyramid in the gallery – to the one I am using to write this article. While work that explores these ideas act as a visual trigger for philosophising notions of art, its significance pales in comparison to landing a probe on a comet or developing cures for diseases.

However, some works/projects have more practical aims. Grizedale Arts, the rural contemporary arts organisation in the Lake District for example, aims to ‘promote the functions of art and artists in practical and effective roles, as a central tenet of a wider culture and society.’ They aim to give artists a strong use and purpose in the rural environment, developing artists as practical contributors to the working farm and community where they are based.

When art explores elements of science the uselessness can appear more evident through directly comparing its value with a practice that is more conventionally useful. However, art can do a lot to raise awareness of certain issues and areas of research. By looking closely at specific projects rather than art/science, generally the mutual benefits and functions of both become clear.

Bio-Artist Eduardo Kac’s project GFP Bunny uses genetic engineering in an unusual and a seemingly scientifically useless way to highlight the topic and possibility of genetic engineering. GFP Bunny focuses around an albino rabbit that appears like any other, until she is illuminated with blue light showing her ability to give off a bright green glow. Alba, the rabbit, was engineered using an enhanced version of genes found in the bioluminescent crystal jellyfish. On the website, dedicated to documenting every facet of this project, Kac explains that this transgenic work is made up of the rabbit, the public dialogue it generates and the social integration of the rabbit. This project creates a complex social event that functions in numerous ways and particularly raises questions of the cultural and ethical implications of genetic engineering.

While discussion is an important aspect in making scientific advancements, particularly with something as controversial as genetic engineering, art can also be used to deal with issues in a more hands on way.

ONCA, One Network for Conservation and the Arts, is a Brighton based gallery which focuses on providing exhibitions and events that harness art to explore issues of conservation. With group shows that have explored extinct species, climate change and biodiversity, ONCA aims – not only to raise awareness of environmental and conservation issues through the arts – but also to promote educational initiatives for both art and conservation, and to raise funds to support conservation projects. While projects from ONCA do raise awareness for the need for conservation and may rouse viewers to take up the mantle themselves, they are also using their position and funds to support projects like 100: A Making of Trees. An on-going project inspiring the community to think about trees in new ways which plans to plant 100 new trees in Brighton over the next year.

Given the myriad of both scientific and artistic practices, it is impossible to create a general assessment of how one uses the other. However, it is clear that art is a platform that can be harnessed for a range of subjects and issues, and despite its history of creating functionless objects; the relationship between art and science is more about how these different subjects can benefit each other. Using the different functions and possibilities they each present.


Art, meet Science.  

Leaving the cinema after viewing Christopher Nolan’s latest offering, ‘Interstellar’, I found myself rendered uncharacteristically speechless by the spectacle I had witnessed. Regardless of the many opinions the film has evoked, most agree that it successfully engenders a sense of wonder and, at least in my case, ignites a desire to know more. More of what we are such an insignificant part of; the universe and all its mysteries, many that we have not yet even begun to consider. The difficulty arises as attempts to ‘wrap ones head around’ many of the theories surrounding the complexity of the universe, often leads to confusion and therefore, frustration. Whilst visiting NASA I saw a film, which presented Hubble Space Telescope’s (HST) images, intended to offer a glimpse into what travelling through the universe would physically look like. I was mesmerised; sitting there in complete and utter awe, desperate for the opportunity to actually experience these wonders with my own eyes and to understand what I had previously ignored due to its complexity. Thus began the investigation which inspired and informed my artistic practice; the question, “I wonder if space really looks like that?’ was simple; the answer; “No, it does not”, was more complex.

Black Hole Interstellar

We have come to define the contemporary astronomical image with highly saturated, bright colours, established by the HST, as reality, but this perception of the cosmos is flawed. Though driven by science and technology, the finished images are hugely influenced by aesthetics. The Hubble images depend heavily upon intervention and bias to produce a stylistic image; these images therefore provide a bridge to connect the relations between art and science. If you were to go into space, what you would mostly see is nothing; our perception is limited to what we call the ‘visible spectrum’, and much of the cosmos extends outside this. In order to see what else is out there, to gain an understanding, we must rely on multiwavelength observation; recording radiation from a broad spectrum of wavelengths. This understanding allows innumerable potential images of the cosmos, as in order to translate the invisible elements to the visible spectrum, our interference results in false colourisation; and whilst these colours function as scientific encryption, colours have also been selected artistically. This generates a falsified image of reality, which aligns aesthetics with scientific data to reach out to the wider public.


Only in the recent past has the cosmos specifically been aligned with art; Kessler[1] specifically discusses this in relation to the HST. Space imagery, delivered by the HST, permits a cosmological adventure, a frontier into the unknown that humans could never otherwise experience, hence our reliance and the importance placed upon images; they provide a window into the universe. It is often argued that we need visionaries able to combine scientific knowledge and understanding, with artistic intuition in order for space to be more widely accessible; this perfectly encapsulates the Hubble image. However, for most of us, particularly those involved in the arts, our perception of science is that it’s ‘too difficult’, something reserved for scientists to explore; why is this? Artists have always explored and actively represented the natural world; historically, art and science were not separate, however, the Renaissance gave birth to specialism, and in doing so, art and science’s distinctions[2]. Today that divergence is still being felt, but the opportunities to unite are opening up. CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) evidences that scientists are willing to collaborate with artists; however artists’ reaction has been described as slow due to science’s ‘arduous’ connotations[3].

Star birth in the extreme

Why should we let it daunt us? Space is so incredibly relevant that it would be imprudent for the arts to disregard it. Erickson[4] states ‘scientists and artists are the best examples we have of human-beings actively seeking and aiming to articulate the intangible’, a notion I would concur with. Nolan and Kip Thorne, the astrophysicist who co-wrote ‘Interstellar’, wanted to create a realistic black hole to include in the film, but where does one even begin when no one knows what one really looks like? Amazingly, rendering one for the film using simulations and calculations, they actually made the scientific discovery. Nolan got a beautiful piece of artistry, whilst Thorne produced new, accurate science according to the laws of mathematics and physics[5].

There is something about space that captures our imagination; it is the perfect canvas for thought, and for artists to explore. We may not understand much of it, but this should not deter us from venturing down that route in order to learn, and bring our own perspective. I implore you not to be daunted, do not turn away from the unknown; be inspired and let your imagination run. Embrace the exciting new learning experiences and concepts science offers, or face being left behind.


  1. Kessler, E., 2012. Picturing the Cosmos: Hubble Space Telescope Images and the Astronomical Sublime. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press
  2. Wilson, S., 2002. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press
  3. Wilson, S., 2012. Art + Science Now: How Scientific Research and Technological Innovation Are Becoming Key to 21st Century Aesthetics. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
  4. Erickson, M., 2012. The Beautiful Universe: A Convergence of Art and Science.
  5. Rogers, A., 2014. Wrinkles in Spacetime: The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar.








Conrad Shawcross – The ADA Project

The Vinyl Factory Space

Natasha Eves

Technological advancement manifests itself in unusual ways. You climb the stairs of the late 1920s Brewer Street Car Park, shades of off-white and duck egg blue blurring in your peripheral vision. At the top, you enter the temporary home of Conrad Shawcross’ dancing robot, The ADA Project. The robot is situated at the far end of the Magna(-science-adventure-centre)-eqse space, so your attention is first drawn to the wall texts and prints. By politely perusing these wall pieces, you reach the information desk, collect information sheets, turn around and finally lay eyes upon the robot. Like a caged lion, it has a coy majesty as it moves seamlessly through its programmed choreography.

Conrad Shawcross – The ADA Project 1

Retina burn is a small price to pay for viewing this piece, as the unmediated light on the robot’s tip invites and holds our gaze, whilst the music makes sense of its motions. When the music ends, it whirs through the silence, repeating its routine. It is tempting to think that the robot should stop when the music does, as we dance to music, we dance with it. But Shawcross’ robot commissioned these musical scores, its movements inspired by Ada Lovelace, the mathematician. Four renowned female musicians, Beatrice Dillon, Holly Herndon, Mira Calix and Tamara Barnett Harrin responded to these movements, creating four new and unique compositions. Dillon and Herndon created pieces that synced perfectly with the programmed dances, expressing the robot’s implied sentience.


One hundred years previously, motion studies were used by Frank and Lilian Gilbreth to increase worker efficiency rather than to create music. The Gilbreths attached a camera to a timing device and photographed workers performing various tasks. The motion paths were tracked by small lights attached to the worker’s hands or fingers. This was called a chronocyclegraph, used in the hope to reduce worker’s movements to the shortest sequence of gestures. Long exposure prints of The Ada Project and the Gilbreth’s chronocyclegraphs bear such a visual resemblance that it is curious how different their intentions are.

Conrad Shawcross – The ADA Project

Frank and Lilian Gilbreth’s intention was to robotise factory workers; it wasn’t about beauty, it was about efficiency. These movements were written on photographs and in models and retrospectively they have a certain utilitarian beauty. To view the Gilbreths’ work now is to think of the beauty of motion, they were writing movements in light. Their innovative use of the moving image earned them great respect in the field of time and motion studies. But this retroactive beauty shows how scientific technologies seep into the creative spheres, as we subsequently procure its aesthetic value.


You could say that Shawcross has ‘freed’ his robot from a life as a welder in a car factory. Its movements are documented in photographs and in music. It has been repurposed, anthropomorphised perhaps, into a performer. Once the robot is anthropomorphised however, it may generate assumptions of a possibly forced performance. It moves tirelessly through its motions, it doesn’t stop when the music stops and you hear it whir sadly until someone presses the next button and it performs the next dance. It is an exhibition of grace and beauty native to the uncanny valley. Shawcross’ robot has an eerie allure that echoes through the space, whilst celebrating the beauty of musical composition and it’s relation to choreography.

Conrad Shawcross – The ADA Project

The way in which Shawcross and the Gilbreths approach the subject of manufacturing is distinctive; the former liberates the machine from its traditional boundaries and commission’s music, whereas the Gilbreths examination attempted to mechanise human labour. Their interest in the mechanical enthrals the viewer with its promise of the future. However, upon this realisation the viewer can discover that the Gilbreths’ pre-empt the negation of human labour, shaping humanity into the innards of an eternal production line. Whilst one hundred years later, Shawcross’ robot dances out the last throes of its industrial life.

It’s only the beginning: A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Navigating the next step after an arts education can sometimes feel like an uncharted ocean: filled with a sense of exploration but never knowing where the heck you’re going. You see so many others who have gone before you, all leaving from the same starting point but the maps they’ve drawn up are completely useless when applied to your own journey. In the creative industry, there often isn’t a simple A to B set of instructions but there’s also no wrong route – there’s only the one that’s right for you. With that in mind, I’ve provided some suggestions based on my own experience (and the experience of others with far more wisdom than myself) in order to reassure anyone soon to sail into the unknown.

DO have an art detox

For your sanity alone, taking a break is extremely important. When deadlines are out the way and the degree show has come down, it will almost certainly feel alien to be relieved of the pressure of those goals. For me, it felt like I was just beginning to get to grips with my own practice at the very moment I had to leave. With all the momentum I’d gathered, why would I slow down now when it seemed like I was really making a breakthrough? For practical reasons that will likely affect most art graduates, (like loss of studio space, relocating and time constraints) I couldn’t continue making work and it was deeply frustrating. However, I also know that had I tried to continue at the pre-degree show pace, it would only have been a matter of time before I burnt out with mental (and physical) exhaustion. Taking a rest and stepping back to assess where you’re headed doesn’t mean you aren’t going to continue to be an artist – it actually allows space for you to process your work and ideas. If you intend on investing yourself in your art practice in the long run, remember that it is exactly that – a long run.


A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Courtesy Of Sarah Botha


DON’T get discouraged

Much easier said than done. The key here is to remember the point I already made about taking a break (you should be taking a break) which might mean stopping yourself from ‘panic applying.’ When the end is nigh, you will begin seriously Googling all the opportunities out there. At first, I was strictly checking arts jobs listings with an optimistic inner monologue – ‘Yes, perhaps I could do some curation for the Tate Britain. Such a shame it’s only part time though.’ It wasn’t long until I’d been turned down by countless employers and was furiously vacancy hunting on any job website I could find, praying to the gods that I wouldn’t have to go back to Costa. ‘Don’t apply to MI5 because you’re probably not quite right for the job,’ were the words of personal experience an older graduate friend gave me after I’d asked if she had any advice to contribute. Whether it’s a retail job, an exhibition proposal or a residency application, everyone will face being rejected at one point or another. A lot of creative opportunities will be looking for candidates whose work has had some time to mature, so don’t feel pressured to immediately apply to every residency programme you hear about. Most importantly, don’t lose heart if you do get knocked back and don’t give up – maybe you aren’t what MI5 are looking for but you are still a talented, capable and creative person.

DO go somewhere new

I’m not talking about a soul-searching trip through the depths of India (unless that’s what you had planned) but simply going somewhere different. It’s very possible that the only places you will have seen in your final weeks are the studio, the library and the view of the ceiling from your bed. Take a trip to somewhere you’ve postponed visiting because your schedule’s been too packed for fun excursions. And don’t feel guilty when that trip probably isn’t to a gallery.


A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Courtesy Of Sarah Botha


DON’T forget about your uni mates

The phrase ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’ is never more true than when said within the creative industry. The people you meet through your course are all part of your creative network – relationships with peers, colleagues, university staff and local art spaces are all connections you can maintain after graduation. You won’t know the importance of having a support system of creative thinkers around you until you fly the educational nest (and realise no one else understands your arty dialogue). Even if you find yourself in a different part of the country, keep talking to the people who encourage you and who you can bounce ideas around with – you never know when it might spark a collaborative project or lead you to an opportunity you wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.

DO remember what you’re passionate about

The reality is that not everyone who studies art will be – or wants to be – an artist. You’ll have learnt a lot about what your strengths are while at art school because you’ll likely have had a go at just about everything. Just after emerging from the haze of your final year is the perfect time to take stock of all the skills you do have and think about what you really want to do with them. It’s easy to get caught up in all the things you’ve had to do and lose sight of the things you want to do. Maybe you love writing; maybe you discovered how good you were at organising events; maybe you were much more interested in the musical theatre performances you were doing outside of your studies. When you feel you need to open up your art practice again, read through your artist statement and remind yourself what your core concepts are. Give yourself as much time as possible to refocus – you’ll discover what your talents are as you go.


A guide to surviving the after art school blues

Courtesy Of Sarah Botha


DON’T worry about not knowing

See this next frame of time as an opportunity to take risks and find out what you love. If you haven’t already had a torrent of people ask you what your after university plans are then get ready for an onslaught of insatiably interested friends, parents, distant relatives, old school mates and even complete strangers. If you do know what’s next for you, that’s awesome. And if you don’t feel you do, then you’ve got an exciting time ahead. The important part is that you keep engaged with what you enjoy and you start to make your own map.



Phone Photography: A new era

With photography, in the process of pictorial reproduction the hand was for the first time relieved of the principal artistic responsibilities, which henceforth lay with the eye alone as it peered into the lens.- Walter Benjamin


Nowadays owning a mobile phone that can take a half decent photograph is fairly ubiquitous. This very concept is becoming more apparent as technology progresses at an unprecedented pace.


Capturing an image is incredibly easy with todays technology; mobile phones have the capability to take numerous images in under a second, and even edit them just before they are posted online via an application or website. This is testament to how personal tech has developed since the days of film photography.


Courtesy of Jan Ove Iversen


The processes of capturing an image have diversified, and so has the sentimentality we associate with the picture, along with the manor in which it is exhibited.

All of this can now be achieved not only by artists but anyone who owns a mobile phone.

This also goes for moving image; phones are becoming the modern day video cameras; no longer do we need to carry camcorders and multiple memory cards; we can film and edit the videos almost instantaneously.


Walter Benjamin’s words in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction couldn’t be more resonant here. In the text he stated that art was and is being created and reproduced at drastic speeds, thus forcing critics and viewers to reconsider values such as genuineness, originality, provenance and monetary value.



Courtesy of Jan Ove Iversen



There is reference to the various ways of mechanical reproduction, such as print, modeling and photography etc. Which drew the form of the essay to discuss these factors when considering artistic creativity. Granted that these factors were far more prominent in 1936 with the industrial revolution in full swing, the content is still very relevant, especially when one is to consider modern photography and the way it has been utilized.

With this in mind, how should we consider the every-day photographer over the professional when accessible digital media is involved?


Instagram is brimming with talented photographers and people who have decided to advertise their photographical skills via the internet. Conversely, Instagram is also used as a way to document the every day, allowing individuals to store photographs that document their daily activities and lives.

It is relatively uncommon in contemporary culture for such a multitude of varying talents to be associated with each other and to be accepted artistically. This medium gives aspiring photographers of varying ages an opportunity to express themselves creatively, in a way that can be shared by a vast audience, as opposed to the more critical and inaccessible gallery environment.


The work of art in this case, the digital photograph, is probably the most mechanically reproduced artistic medium to date. Being able to take a photograph and upload it to one of many digital galleries is instant, therefore allowing a greater breadth of creatives to display more examples of their creative ability.


Courtesy of Jan Ove Iversen


Jan Ove Iversen’s ( ) work has been particularly chosen as a strong example of the points made in this article, along with the following Instagram Photographers:

Stayfound –

senns_less –

insighting –

reillyhunter –

diaphragm –

brockdavis –


Neutrality vs. Tourism

An exploration into the differences between expected and contemporary behaviour inside the white cube.


The gallery, like many constructed institutions, has established a specific etiquette that people are expected to adhere to within its walls. These expectations are intrinsically linked to how the white cube presents itself. While it was conceived as a neutral space where art can be seen without any external interference, it is in fact, steeped with associations – including that of religion and purity, as well as neutrality itself. Its visual conventions act as cues to alert visitors to the way they must interact – walking meditatively around, contemplating each work for an allotted time. While artists have challenged this passive interaction, through the development of installation and relational practices, the gallery still perpetuates a calm, meditative image.

Neutrality vs. Tourism

By using various means of representation and documentation, the gallery constructs this image, enforcing the rules for behaviour and our expectations of fellow viewers. Brian O’Doherty, in Inside the White Cube, describes that “The installation shot is a metaphor for the gallery space” as provides the idealised viewing of art, without the intrusion of physical bodies. This is part of a more extensive propaganda that includes the representation of art through postcards, posters and monographs that show art in isolation from its physical surroundings. The reality for me, and the majority of viewers, is much more messy. While the attempted neutrality aims to separate art from life the presence of spectators and their ‘physical bodies’ bring this interference, and life, into the space.


One of the reasons public galleries gain funding is so that art can increase visitors in an area, providing income for the local economy. While for galleries in major cities this isn’t the only attraction, the idea of art being an element of tourism is pertinent to our experience within them. With renowned museums like the Tate, the Louvre and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) being part of the itinerary for most tourists, they attract a much more general public and conventions of tourism seep into the gallery. Just as you would photograph Big Ben, The Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, it is important to capture the equivalent ‘celebrity’ artworks upon visiting these institutions. While the Mona Lisa is the undeniable champion, galvanising the most attention, with swarms of visitors partaking in the attempt to photograph her enigmatic smile – despite the excess of others attempting the same. Works like Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans and Van Gogh’s Starry Night generates a slightly less extreme, yet similar behaviour.

Neutrality vs. Tourism

While some galleries prevent the paparazzi flooding the white cube by not permitting photography, many leave the decision to the viewer resulting in an array of different interactions. From methodically capturing every work with an SLR, so you have your own version of the galleries documentation to show others what you failed to look at – apart from through a lens; to the new trend of taking selfies beside, or in front of, famous works. The integration of high quality cameras into smart phones allows almost everyone to thoroughly document their lives, including visits to galleries.


While this type of photography within exhibitions does a lot to contradict the empty, lifeless image of the gallery, other more simple aspects of human behaviour similarly disrupt the illusions of the space. From coughing and sneezing, creaky floors and phones ringing, to general conversations, life is never truly separated from the white cube as long as there are people within it. And while the institution does its best to keep it out, with today’s technology where everyone is connected to their smart phone and social media has become integrated into our daily lives, nothing can be kept separate from life, even the gallery.

Technology rather than experience

It is not unknown news that artist Ai Weiwei is currently exhibiting a somewhat controversial body of work at the birthplace of Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace. Opening on 1st October.

However, it is not only the controversy of the work itself creating media interest, but how does a dissident, restricted from leaving China, install more than fifty artworks inside a stately home in Oxfordshire? Using modern 3D technology, Weiwei was able to install his works using a computer model created through meticulously laser-scanning the whole building. Through forming a virtual world, he was granted the access he needed to practically and theoretically produce artworks specific to the site itself.

Ai Weiwei

Image Courtesy of Blenheim Palace

Although there are some simple technologies used to enhance the practicality of exhibitions and creating art – for example the current use of the 3D printer – this drastic reliance on technology in order to even form and develop an idea, let alone producing and installing the work, seems unheard of.

it seems that the use of 3D technology such as this, is in a limbo between the extremities of both ideas

At the outset, this particular artistic method of working could be seen to criticise the artist as a craftsman. Not in the sense that Weiwei has not created work from his own ideas and in keeping with his body of work, but that through the development of reproductive techniques such as 3D technology, it could be said that the originality, or aura, of the works were questioned. Now, that is an extremely concise and basic analysis drawn from an out dated theory on aesthetics – imposed by traditional views of art – but in this case it is perhaps true that the artist’s method of working served as a kind of imagination and interpretation of the world. It becomes more than purely an additional resource and attains a role of central importance in the artistic creation – integral to the works themselves. These ideas would require a far more in depth exploration, and could even overlap into the use of digital art, editing techniques and even social media.

However, if you consider the history of the ready-made in art and it’s long tradition of anti-craftsmanship – albeit not necessarily current theory in terms of modern art – it seems that the use of 3D technology such as this, is in a limbo between the extremities of both ideas.

In a similar vein, exhibitions such as Henri Matisse’s Cut Outs have been produced into a live tour of the exhibition itself, broadcasted in some 200 cinemas around the UK and pulling in around 15,000 people. This will shortly be transformed into a film of Matisse Live which will be released in screening rooms around the world. In this case, virtual technology have been used primarily to enhance viewer participation beyond the gallery, but does this detract from the interpersonal elements of traditional art experiences?

It is interesting to note my position whilst writing about these ideas, for I have responded entirely to second hand media sources and videos of the exhibition and so have been unable to comment on the impacted physical experience I may have felt when viewing the exhibition. Ironically, you may say this point of view doesn’t allow me to consider the use of virtual technology whatsoever, for this is based entirely on the reliance of Internet technology itself. In a wider scope, it seems that the bigger question to consider is whether the use of the virtual lends itself not only as an alternative to the physical experience of art, but in the future, as a replacement.


Celebrating Art From Around The World – Ewa Goral

 Ewa Goral

O R G A N I C: I am trying to go deeper into the amazing floral world of nature. I draw many fantastic inspirations from past, amongst which one can find classic works of philosopher, biologist and traveller Ernst Haeckel as well as more contemporary, psychedelic representations of wildlife (for example music video At Delphi of Californian group Sun Araw, directed by Cameron Stallone and Daniel Brantley). Floral series has been painted on the round canvas to underline periodicity typical for vegetation?s processes. I transform most of the painting objects; definitely you will not see amongst my pieces a classic still life with flowers in a vase. I am more fascinated by the secret, ?human? life of flora, which is why some of the elements have ears, eyes or teethes. I tend to create my own botanical world which comes out of my imagination and on canvas join with reality.



ewa goral



ewa goral

Celebrating Art From Around The World – Bertrand Lanthiez

Bertrand Lanthiez

Bertrand is a French graphic designer, recently graduated from ESAG Penninghen School in Paris.

Even after completing his eight months Erasmus exchange, he continues to be inspired by the majesty of Scandinavia. He likes to twist materials from their original use, changing formats and design in every project. 

He chose to communicate ideas through interactive installations, focusing on a dialogue by letting the audience being an actor and not only a passive observer.

He grew up with Lego, now he is playing with Arduino.




Celebrating Art From Around The World – Lucie Libotte

 Lucie Libotte

House dust is commonly perceived as dirty, intrusive and repulsive. We know it as fine grey dry powder consisting of tiny particles and waste matter collecting on surfaces or carried in the air. It is often associated with unkempt and neglected environments, where as a clean environment is considered as civilized and proper. 

 ‘Dust matters’ aims is to re-evaluate this ‘dirt’, and convey the value of dust as an indicator of our environment, showing how it reflects our daily life and traces our journey through the world.

Focusing on an individual’s private sphere, I have collected samples of dust from the domestic home. Observing the different inherent components inside the dust, I conclude that the dust is different depending of the house and its locations.

By locking inside a ceramic container, the dust  starts  to react and get transformed as a glaze. The colors change the glaze and start to behave differently depending on the component : the particles of metal, organic and synthetic matter that make up the dust samples.

The resulting bespoke vessels display unique beauty that tells a different story from each location where the dust was collected.




Lucie Libotte



Lucie Libotte Dust Matters process 2Lucie Libotte Dust Matters process 3




Celebrating Art From Around The World – Sam Houston

Sam Houston

I experiment with the idea of ‘desire’ by using familiar imagery to investigate its importance.

I aim to create a portal for the viewer to escape and admire the subjects, encouraging a changeable emotional state. I use eclectic imagery of figures and the landscape to create a new space that explores our thoughts and desires.

 I achieve this by layering subjects that merge together, allowing a translucent depth to delve into. I use instinct to piece together the images, withholding information to encourage obscurity.

I allow the freedom of colour, reflecting our sudden excitement of desire, yet control it to an acceptance, mirroring reality. Whilst exploring this theme, I test our understanding of space and structure, destabilising our safety, leading to alternative interpretation. I strive to entertain the eye and spark intrigue, stirring understanding of scale, subject and form.



Sam Houston


SAm Houston





Volunteering in the Arts

I was once pulled kicking and screaming from my sleep into a telesales interview in which they verbally accosted me with the words “previous paid position?” It is true that the financial benefits are minimal, but this goes further than that. Since I started voluntary work, it has become a rewarding path I would recommend to anyone. I’ve had some fairly damning experiences that I’ll share, but in the semi-educational way where I hope you won’t encounter similar difficulties.


Cupola Contemporary Art in Hillsborough was my first experience of volunteering in a commercial gallery. Their encouragement helped me cope with the anxiety I felt, and I slowly grew more confident. I was once given the daunting responsibility of making phone calls to a list of forty artists, which I hid in the attic to make. One phone call started with me gushing “Hi! Is this [name]? I really love your work!” met by her bewildered “thank you!”. After a few months of personal development, liaising with artists and visitors became a highlight of my work at Cupola, as they shared creative tips and expanded my knowledge of the local art scene.

Offering whatever spare time you have will always be appreciated. A variety of roles exist within a gallery, and making it your job to tackle them all at least once is great for mining experience points. I’m personally wary of hosting opening nights – the last tram home with a head full of red wine and art speak makes navigating the underpass near the O2 Academy Sheffield anything but jaunty.

Laura Jayne Illustrations

Laura Jayne Illustrations

The biggest problem for me was my commuting costs, particularly as Cupola’s volunteers were usually local. After a simple discussion, half my costs were covered. Checking for offers to cover travel and lunch costs is super useful when unwaged – just remember to keep your receipts.

During my time at Cupola, the owner Karen Sherwood became a huge inspiration for me, cementing my aspirations of gallery ownership. She’s now got a blog documenting her journey, which is an important insight into the practical necessity of dedicated volunteers.

Laura Jayne Illustrations

Laura Jayne Illustrations


At Bank Street Arts in Sheffield I learnt a pretty big lesson; you need to research how long the commitment is for, otherwise you could not get a lot out of it. BSA offers “stages” within their volunteering scheme, stage one for me was front of house duties, and it’s a shame that’s all I ever really saw of BSA before leaving. BSA is essentially a volunteer run organisation, so it gives the place an interesting dynamic. The only downside being that the fresh “stage one” front of house volunteers often have a slightly disorientated approach to visitor’s questions (and I still can’t remember where the toilets are).

In spite of this, I still made the most of it. Networking is one of the best reasons for volunteering, as you should have hopefully built a sound relationship with someone by the end of your time there. I kept in contact via LinkedIn/email with one of the exhibition organisers where all the paintings were reproductions. Six months later, I was writing a coincidentally inspired essay about reproduction art, and I contacted them for useful resources.


Invigilating events across London allowed me to scope out really unique and interesting venues – especially when doing short term volunteering. Artsjobs is a fantastic place to find voluntary roles, and it can give you a route into many organisations. Being available to help friends who already work in the arts is a bonus and makes you feel (a.) a good friend and (b.) an integral part of the event. But always remember that your input is valid and useful so don’t be nervous to offer your opinion.


A West London gallery that will remain unnamed was the first long-term voluntary role I took on in London. One of their opening gambits was Stella McCartney is just round the corner, and I absolutely loathe Stella McCartney. So that set the tone nicely. I appreciate the fact that many Sheffield galleries and London events can’t afford staff costs. However this was a sponsored West London gallery that just wanted some free desk monkeys to serve champagne and canapés on opening nights. They used volunteers to open the gallery on Saturdays, yet all we ever did was sit there and get maybe one or two visitors through the door. Boring and exploitative unpaid work. Definitely not what volunteering should be.

Laura Jayne Illustrations

Laura Jayne Illustrations

One of the final emails I received before quitting showed their desperation for volunteers, “we’ll cover your travel costs!” They said. Ah, the penny finally dropped. They finally realised that a gallery sponsored by a paint company giant could at least cover travel costs. Cue round of applause. I didn’t care by that point anyway. Breeding apathy in your volunteers through fruitless work doesn’t make a reliable staffing.

Your time is valuable. You should value it, and where you are working should value it. They shouldn’t just be valuing free labour. And you shouldn’t just value the fact that it’ll look good on a cv. What I found most disheartening about that place was how many graduates were there as something to do. There was nothing to do there, little to be gained unless you’re one of the artists… leave, call the gallery bitter names, move on and hope they get called out eventually for unpaid labour.


Ad hoc volunteering with Museums Sheffield means I can stay connected to a city I love whilst studying in London. Delivering art workshops to families is one of my favourite roles because I get to share skills and learn things from the children. It’s a good feeling letting children take home what you’ve made – and living in the knowledge that I’m helping fill their parent’s houses with that they would normally deem as “rubbish”. But where would their child be without their cardboard box rendering of Park Hill Flats?

But you can’t always please children whilst invigilating events and you can’t clear parents of blame either. I have witnessed nervous prods at sculptures followed by encouragement to their offspring to follow suit. Or father-daughter iPhone photo shoots of them wearing an exhibit. Don’t touch is a rule young-and-old have a flagrant disregard for and you have become the sharp-eyed and peremptory figure in this game of cat and mouse.


Ignite Imaginations in Sheffield is the most recent voluntary role I’ve taken on, again on an ad hoc basis like Museums Sheffield. I got this role from emailing Karen at Cupola Gallery, asking if she knew of any summer jobs. She suggested that Art in the Park were looking for volunteers to help with their rebranding as Ignite Imaginations. My oldest connection helped make my newest connection and many more in-between. Utilise your contacts – utilise everything you learn from volunteering, you never know when you’ll need it.

Didactic Display: The importance of personal experience

Information hungry, the way we live revolves around what we know, how quickly we can collect information and how much information we can retain; this is true of the way we consider education, the way we live socially and the way we encounter the world. This also very appropriately describes the way we view art. Encountering wall texts, audio-guides, guided tours, information booklets, catalogues, not to mention the usual amenities such as artist’s names, titles and mediums, upon entering the vast majority of art galleries we are faced with fixtures which in terms of knowledge and understanding leave few stones unturned. Although what could be considered the current standard curatorial method (a didactic approach to viewing art) allows a viewer an impressively comprehensive theoretical understanding of a particular work, it does not seem to invite more creative approaches to the process of mediation or understanding. Such a heavily didactic approach to information greatly reduces the probability of a viewer forming any sort of personal or emotional connection to a work. People don’t fall for a Rothko because they understand it.


In Wonderful uncertainty a text by Raqs Media Collective, they write: ‘people bring their own histories, memories, scars and desires to bear on any work they encounter’. Surely the more prescriptively one is fed a work of art, the less one is able to bring of one’s own and thus is supposedly far less connected. Colours, shapes, objects etc. all have there own cultural and social associations, layers of representation or ‘meaning’ which we bestow upon them.  However, often colours, shapes, objects, etc. are also inexplicably tied-up with personal association, representation and emotion. When one experiences a work of art, one undoubtedly experiences the work from one’s own individual viewpoint of the world.


Suzanne Lacy in her publication Mapping the terrain: new genre public art talks of engagement in terms of particular artworks, within the text is a diagram depicting what Lacy refers to as ‘rings of engagement’, which in concentric circles transform the notion of different audiences into a diagram representing different groups’ levels of interaction with a work of art, and their importance insofar as the works existence. Lacy states that the ‘innermost circle represents those without whom the work could not exist’, the outermost circle being ‘audience of myth and memory’. I suppose, the question this poses (at least to me) is whether one could consider the perspective of ‘the audience of myth and memory’ as either part of the inner circle or a different diagram completely, as although yes, the work could exist without their perspective, the work from their perspective could not exist without them. Without a specific viewer having gone through an individual process of mediating a particular piece of work, their ideas would have never been realised. It’s arguable that works of art exist as a multiplicity of individual interpretations and understandings (of which the artist is one), in which case, the individual experience is of extreme importance and the work couldn’t exist without each and every viewer (in whatever capacity that may be).


Additional information in which I am including titles, mediums, descriptive and/or explanatory wall-texts, etc. is just that – additional. The information, at least that which is crucial, is unspoken and present in the work itself. Looking for more, it’s easily forgotten that these often over-didactic methods employed by the gallery are not the only place to search. It’s important not only to understand what the work has to offer but what one has to offer to the work – experiences, memories, emotions which ultimately one has in common with the work are as, if not more important than any conceptual understanding on the part of the artist. When does information or understanding become counter-productive?


Do we really engage with a work we are told everything about? There are most certainly works that more effortlessly lend themselves to a more fluid, creative process of mediation. Just as there are works which it is much more difficult to engage with in this way, of which conceptual art proves particularly problematic. How can a work’s conceptual ideas be explained, whilst still allowing the space for a viewer’s personal thoughts and feelings to manifest? It is, I suppose, important that conceptual understanding, in terms of the artist’s understanding of their own work, is presented in some way and in that sense, a didactic attitude towards the work’s meaning is difficult to avoid – but do we really want to close off the possibility to the artwork’s full potential? Do different varieties of work require different levels of mediation and do some works in particular require there to be a more open, more fluid form of viewing?


Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled 1989-1990, a stack of endless sheets of printed paper, along with Dominique Gonzalez-Forester’s Tapis de Lecture (Reading Rug), a carpet on which an ‘L’ shaped stack of books sits waiting to be read, are both works which invite a participatory viewing.  Both works surround specific conceptual meaning with an aura of ambiguity and in this sense encourage the viewer to engage in a deeper, more intrinsic encounter with the work. Gonzalez-Torres’ paper-stacks, which are intended to be taken one by one, by the viewer and are constantly replenished by the gallery, are a heavily conceptual body of works and yet in their minimal forms, do not necessarily dictate the experience or understanding of the individual. Inviting the viewer to engage in an act seldom acceptable in an art gallery in both touching and removing the work, the viewer is offered another rare opportunity of experiencing an original work of contemporary art (or at least a piece of) in their home. Tapis de Lecture is entirely different in its methods of non-specificity. The foundation of its bibliography being Gonzales-Forester’s practice; the books are ones commonly referenced within her work. Despite the specific nature of the selection of material, what the viewer (or reader) chooses to read is completely up to the individual. A viewer could read the entirety of information present in Tapis de lecture and yet their thoughts, ideas and connections between documents would be completely unique to that of Gonzales-Forester’s. Whether viewers read at all is, I suppose, dictated by the situation they might find themselves in; participation is more likely to occur if some level of participation is already taking place. As I have already attempted to establish within this text, current methods of curating and viewing art often stand in the way of the potential for a more engaged, creative experience, and this is true also of physical participation.


At the 2014 Tate Summer School Jenny Dunseath gave a talk specifically focused towards making; she had her audience/participants occupying their hands molding plasticine and their mouths with the act of chewing gum. Dunseath who sculpts and has a particular interest in idiosyncrasies and processes of making, had her audience fiddling and chewing whilst following various instructions. As her audience/participants became increasingly involved with their own process of making she spoke about an array of works, ideas and theories by both herself and other practitioners.  She reeled off huge amounts of of information, including information about her work as an assistant to Antony Caro – making remained at all times the theme of her monologue. It was both my understanding and that of all other audience/participants that we experienced a point at which we had stopped listening to what Dunseath was saying. Discovering an inability to sculpt with the plasticine, follow instruction, chew gum and listen to/digest information, there came a point at which each audience/participant sort of ‘woke up’ in a panic that they had failed to take notice of what Dunseath had to say. Thankfully Dunseath reassured her listeners at the very end when she spoke about the importance of the talk/exercise being in the process and experience that each individual had had with their materials (plasticine and gum) and that learning was intentionally taking place through the physical process of doing and not listening.

The Art Magazine

FMG Arts MonthlyNow I needn’t ask if you’ve read an art magazine, because you’re clearly reading one right now, but are they becoming the compact, convenient alternative to art exhibitions? I know this sounds far-fetched (and it is a little bit) but there is reasoning behind it.

Firstly, an art magazine is a publication whose main topic is art. They exist in both print form, online or sometimes even both, and are often aimed at different audiences, including galleries, collectors, amateur or professional artists and the general public. As a reader myself for both leisure and research reasons, I am aware of the importance of these magazines within the art world as a whole. However, if we take a step back, are these journals providing such an insight to the visual, theoretical and creative content of exhibitions, that we no longer need to experience them first hand?

We are spoilt with glossy, high resolution images when reading these magazines. This is even more prominent since the transference into digital form, where HD screens allow photographs to mimic reality. It makes you wonder, since the fast development of technology in the past twenty years, how we can read about and see images of exhibitions on our mobile phones. We can access this on the train, in bed, and on the way to work – every reason to not see the real thing.

The reproduction of popular exhibitions within magazines adheres to the fast-paced (yet often lethargic) lifestyle we lead, where often it is hard to set aside time to experience art in all its glory; experience being the operative word here, for a magazine cannot capture this. Imagine reading about a Rothko exhibition, or a Tino Segal performance in one of these journals – you’d never be able to imagine how it feels to speculate the art first hand. Don’t get me wrong, different art is hated by some and loved by others but if you are reading a biased article then you’ll never get any personal feeling about the original work.

The publications themselves are branded in a similar way to how galleries are – they adhere to a particular audience and are formed of a certain kind of content. With branding in mind, both exhibitions and articles are chosen to represent a core set of ideas or concepts. Sadly, many journals are clogged up with advertisements (often about galleries or exhibitions), which dilutes the flow through article to article. I guess it’s obvious to state that if you view art physically, you would have no problem with pages and pages of unnecessary, similar adverts with the odd perfume campaign.

It seems that in contemporary society we may be running the risk of compacting experiences into digital or object forms. I’m not saying in anyway that it captures the essence of these experiences, nor do they pose a threat, but I know I’m not the only one guilty of skipping the latest box office movie in exchange for a review and a trailer or simply looking at the pictures of current popular exhibitions. Art has developed alongside art journals, magazines and monologues so these aren’t new additions to the workings of the art world, yet does convenience, lower cost (or buying something you can keep) and a commentary neglect an afternoon spent in the company of art itself? Probably not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m not the only one reading this magazine and not viewing the art in its full glory.

Fresh From Sheffield – S1 Artspace



Sheffield is a growing power in the UK’s art scene.

Hosting not only a contemporary art biennial festival but also the Sheffield Doc Fest.

Being home to S1 Artspace, Bloc projects, CAD, Yorkshire Artspace, Site Gallery and Sheffield Museums. Sheffield boasts a thriving street art scene, the most amount of studios in the UK outside of London and having one of the oldest established Art & Design institutions Sheffield’s Institute of Art.

We talk to Pippa Shaw, Geo Law & Joseph Cutts from S1 Artspace about the state of Sheffield’s art scene and their place in it. You can view there videos by clicking on the videos below.

Daily Rituals

Every artist will at some stage feel a block, and go seeking guidance. I myself am guilty of having spent far too many hours reading about creativity as opposed to actually creating stuff, so I know the risks involved when you go looking for advice (the risk being spending too much time chin-stroking and not enough time making). To those seeking guidance: I feel your pain, and I would like to spare you some time.
There is an overwhelming quantity of writing about how to find and sustain inspiration. Books on the subject can be found in almost every section from self-help to business, to biographies and psychology. From the viewpoint of their respective disciplines, the authors try to address the daunting questions that arise while maintaining a creative practice. How do you make meaningful work while also earning a living? Does hardship make us work better? Is the opposite true – that getting down to work actually necessitates a basic level of comfort? When time is tight – must you make sacrifices, and if so what – income, social life or a clean house? If it is possible to have it all, how do you organise your time so that you can pay the rent, keep in touch with friends, clean the house, and do what you love?


Developing a better understanding of the creative process is clearly a widespread (not to mention lucrative) concern. With such a huge amount of information available, it’s hard to know what to trust. Even the researchers, TED-talkers, ‘gurus’ and authors who are the supposed voices of authority in their fields would have to admit that the creative process is a highly subjective matter and “whatever works – works”. Unfortunately vague sentiments like this aren’t much use to those who are actually experiencing a block. Those who wake up one to discover that they don’t have a single idea worth writing down. Those who, try as they might, have never quite been able recover from a particularly brutal crit. Those who can’t remember the buzz they first experienced when they first picked up a camera and are secretly terrified that they won’t ever feel that way again.


In 2007, Mason Currey was sitting in the office of the architecture magazine he wrote for, suffering from a block. It was during a particularly restless afternoon of online procrastination that he started the Daily Routines blog, which was eventually reconfigured into the book ‘Daily Rituals’. The blog is simply a collection of the day-to-day routines of 150 great minds, including Ingmar Bergman, Sigmund Freud, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frederico Fellini, Slyvia Plath, David Lynch, Marcel Proust, Twlya Thwarp and Marina Abromovic, etc.

Daily Rituals Mason Curry

Whenever writing about revered figures in any field, their successes can often overshadow the context of their private lives. The sheer randomness of events which lead them to create the masterpieces of which they are famed can be very easily overlooked. It’s an easier and more saleable to go for the age-old artist-genius story. What sets ‘Daily Rituals’ apart is that it isn’t about the masterpieces – it’s about the circumstances in which the work happens. Put the work itself to one side for a second, and it’s possible to glimpse at the artist as a creature of habit. By focusing on the mundane details of his subjects lives – Currey give us a novel angle on the creative process.


Marina Abromovic undergoes a militant routine to prepare for her performances but lives a loose and unstructured lifestyle when she isn’t working. Some work by day, others by night. Some desire solitude others can make progress by sharing their ideas. F.Scott Fitzgerald could only write in gin-fuelled bursts and insisted that alchohol was an essential part of the process. The book presents an expanded, and much more thoroughly researched versions of the blog, drawing from biographies, obituaries, interviews, letters and dairy entries of his subjects which make up a summary of each individuals routine (or lack there of).
For some, a vigorous routine is perfect. Edward Gibbon was a dedicated historian who persevered with his studies even when he was recruited for military action. He could often be found reading up on theological debate in his tent, recalling ancient history while on the march, always awake at the crack of dawn to get on with his research before the day’s maneuvers began. The adverse conditions didn’t faze him in the slightest. VS Pritchett said of Gibbon: “Sooner or later the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never loose a minute. It is very depressing”. Yet, for every cheerfully industrious type like Gibbon, there exists the opposite. Franz Kafka was an extremely talented writer who produced astoundingly vivid and influential stories while living a civilian life. Working lengthy hours in claustrophobic conditions with a highly-strung home-life, he seemed to live most of his life in a state of perpetual horror at these surroundings. This undoubtedly contributed to his nightmarish tales, but his torturous blocks are well documented. As he waited for inspiration to strike, he suffered from agonizing anxiety and self-doubt.
If the case studies in ‘Daily Rituals’ are anything to go by then Gibbon and Kafka are some of the most extreme examples. It’s encouraging to note that most people in the book fall somewhere in the middle-ground between these two. Most of Currey’s subjects make time for their passions as often as they in spite of the obstacles in their way. Yet they are never 100% confident in their approach. Even during the good days, they are superstitiously looking for anything that might upset the delicate working conditions that they thrive in.
It just goes to show that whatever works, works. No-one can answer the question of how to work better in a way which is meaningful to everyone. As Currey puts it – this can only be resolved “on an individual level through shakey personal compromises”. Or, as Kafka puts it (speaking from his tiny office where he is scolded and terrorized by his colleagues and family) – “time is short, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers”.


No one said a good working routine is easy to achieve, and if you are in a block and seeking guidance then this might all be getting a little depressing. My advice to you is this: if you go looking to the greats for advice, then bear in mind that they too are reliant on the circumstances of their day to day life in order get on with their work. Put their masterpieces to one side, and it’s possible to glimpse a person’s life’s work as the consequence of thousands of tiny day-to-day decisions. You too can choose to see your life’s work as the miraculous realisation of grand creative vision. Or, you can see it as the product of 89790 cups of coffee, 90015 cups of tea, 299930 early starts, 299981 glasses of water, 279 u-turns, 800 false starts, 400 tearful conversations, 399 hours of networking and 337 hours of online procrastination (approximate figures – do not hold me to these). Whatever helps you to ‘wriggle through.’


Jonathan Vickers and Kerri Pratt

Surprisingly, the Jonathan Vickers Fine Art Award is only just beginning to be recognised as a significantly prestigious prize of national standing.  Surprising, because the Award, has now been running for sixteen years, with successful artists receiving a substantial bursary of £18,000, a nine-month residency in a rent-free studio, contribution to cost of materials, a solo exhibition at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery and input into teaching on Derby University’s Fine Art degree programme.  This makes it one of the biggest art prizes in the country, which not only gives the recipient the opportunity of being able to paint, uninterrupted, for a prolonged period in a dedicated space, but also creates the potential for the artist to be represented by an established gallery.   Major dealers are now paying attention to this biennial event, with London’s prestigious ‘The Fine Art Society – Contemporary’ now representing 2012/13 winner Bartholomew Beal, giving him a solo exhibition at their premiere venue this summer.

Established by the Derbyshire Community Foundation, with the aid of a legacy from the estate of the late Jonathan Vickers, the Award aims to bring ‘a rising artist to Derbyshire to produce work inspired by the county’s landscape, heritage and people’.  It has given painters Lewis Noble (2000/01), Kerry Hacker (2003/04), Helena Ben-Zenou (2005/06), Natalie Dowse (2007/08), Barley Beal (2012/13) a much needed boost to their careers, and by retaining one work from each artist is developing a collection of contemporary art of national importance that enriches the cultural life of Derbyshire.

Kerri Pratt

Kerri Pratt

Kerri Pratt

Kerri Pratt

Kerri Pratt is the latest painter to receive the award and will take up her residency in Derby’s Banks Mill Studios later in the year.  In 2011 she graduated from the University of Derby Fine Art BA programme with a 1st class honours degree, the Vice Chancellor’s Award and two University purchases to her name, having developed a working method that was painterly in its focus through restrained, yet adventurous, mark-making in the build up of semi-abstracted landscapes. Her large-scale paintings centre on personal responses to places, and in particular the built environment and urban setting, and it is here that the potential for a strong response to this year’s Award theme of ‘Our Treasure Houses’ can be realised. Her work hovers between pure abstraction and a defined concrete reality of architectural forms, with physical and illusory space in the image being flattened through a delicate layering, building and scraping back of paint surfaces, which still manages to present an apparently semi-readable view comprising of perspectival impressions.   It is this duality in the painting that allows for an open-endedness of interpretation where the viewer can delight in the restrained gesture and painterly qualities in themselves and, at the same time, become involved in attempting to read a more recognisable scene.  For a painter, such oscillation between the figurative and the non-figurative is no easy feat to achieve; yet Pratt succeeds in this time and again throughout her work.  She says about her practice “Taking inspiration from my surroundings, I have a curiosity for architectural spaces, drawn towards unusual forms, patterns and hidden layers. In particular I like to draw attention to subtleties of the apparently insignificant, things that are taken for granted, overlooked, mundane and banal. By deconstructing the landscape through a drawing process I am finding new ways of ‘seeing’ and responding to the built environment. This practical research then translates through experimental painting techniques, using a controlled approach, but with unpredictable outcomes.”

It is this dynamic between the ambiguous and the apparently readable that hints at the potential for developments to come, and interestingly she states her desire to underpin her practice throughout the residency with a rigorous approach to drawing.  It is this purposeful, focused and disciplined attitude that will ensure Pratt succeeds in producing assured paintings during her nine months on the Award.   Added to this, being born and raised in the local mining town of Heanor, makes her association to a prize that aims to take inspiration from the region’s heritage and add to the county’s culture genuinely valid.  It is the combination of a rigorous approach to practice, coupled with the authenticity of an artist linked to the region and local community, that will no doubt lead to the creation of work that is a genuinely personal response to the brief that nevertheless holds universal appeal.

During Pratt’s residency her work in progress will be available for viewing through Open Studio sessions at her Banks’ Mill Studios, with dates for these being advertised through her website and Twitter feed. Her solo exhibition of paintings from the residency will be held at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery in September 2015.

Learn To Be Happy

Its that time of year.  Degree shows are, for a BA Fine Art student, supposed to be the accumulation of everything you have worked for throughout your education; the beautiful and resolved results of your hard work which confidently asserts: I am An Artist.  I am ready for you, world!

Everyone in art school knows the legend of the Young British Artists (YBAs), who hosted the notorious Freeze exhibition which attracted the attention of Charles Saatchiall while many of them were still students studying at Goldsmiths. 

Oh, youll nominate me for the next Turner Prize? You flatterer!

I think many of us secretly believe that we will be snapped up at our degree show Private View and will be whisked off our feet by some Scandinavian gallery manager who wants to photograph our work for big coffee table books; or perhaps the editor of Frieze magazine; they might want to feature you in an article about the next generation of art graduates

Whats that? You want me to represent England in the next Venice Biennale? You charmer!

You may think Im exaggerating, but the little mounds of bespoke business cards bearing websites and contact details illustrate my point.  And of course, weve worked so hard and overcome so many obstacles,(and painted so many bloody boards white!) it feels only fair that we should be rewarded for it. 

According to David McLeavy, an ex-Hallam Fine Art student, the truth of the matter is that the sudden rise to artistic infamy doesnt really happen, at least not very often in regional cities like Sheffield.  The YBAs are an exception.  But that doesnt mean that there cant still be success for us, the recently graduated.  I first met David McLeavy when we both worked at Lush Cosmetics: I had just started my first year in Sheffield and he had just finished his degree and was working in order to fund his studio at S1 Artspace which he had won through a bursary scheme.  That year, Dave learned how to juggle working at Lush with his artistic practice, alongside setting up a new exhibition space in Sheffield, Snig Hill Gallery.  Since then, Dave has curated shows, facilitated new collaborations between artists, and founded Young Artists in Conversation (YAC), a project where interviews with up-and-coming artists are recorded and archived online.  Dave, with several exciting projects already under his belt, typifies successful graduate

When we leave the relatively comfortable safety net of university life (cheap bus fares, 10% student discount at Topshop), it can be hard to adjust to life outside the bubble.  We have to get jobs, pay council tax, be grownups.  Nationwide, there are schemes through university or galleries which can help graduates to bridge the transition from art school into the real world, and for those who have secured schemes like this, you may already have contacts and even an upcoming show.  But sometimes art practices can be forgotten while we get our lives sorted out; sometimes we fall in love or start a career in a totally different sector; perhaps we cant afford to rent a studio and dads garage just isn’t hitting the spot.  But there are different kinds of success, there are different races to be won. 

I felt more satisfaction hosting the Degree Show Private View, handing out cocktails and icing fairy cakes, than I did actually making and installing the artwork in the show.  Success should come hand in hand with happiness, so for me, success will not be as an artistit doesn’t make me happy.  Out of all my peer group, I think only a small handful intend to make art in the future: many are going on to teach, some have got jobs lined up already and one is starting a family.  But in different ways, we have all succeeded; we have all found out what art means to us and we are all closer to finding out what brings us happiness.  Its the time for existential thinking, but also the time for end-of-degree partiesmaybe you cant have the former without a healthy dose of the latter.

The Uncomfortable Truth Behind Your Creativity

A few years before I moved to the UK and still lived in my hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. I was dating a guy who I met through my friend’s brother. He was everything I wished for as a 19-year-old girl. He played in a band, had long hair, tight jeans and a room wallpapered with posters of one of Sweden’s top pop bands; Kent. After a few weeks of modest dating, he asked me if I wanted to come and listen to the their upcoming gig that would take place the following weekend. I enthusiastically accepted the invitation and ended up in the front row of the intimate crowd among the friends and family who were there to listen. The bright lights of the stage went down and converted into a dim headlight of blue and red colour, as the bass and keyboard’s melodies spread across the cramped venue.

I recognised it so well. The squeaky synth and the angst filled lyrics describing empty cities, concrete buildings and black painted hearts.

After the show, halfhearted applause and a light kiss on the forehead, he asked what I thought. With blushing cheeks I nodded and said I liked it, avoiding the uncomfortable truth that it all was a total rip off, a stolen sound from the big idols he so delicately taped to his bedroom walls.

When you engage in the creative sector, whether it is art, music, writing or any other creative profession, there is a basic knowledge that the fact of surrounding yourself with the work of others will help your own creative process. It will help you to develop your artistic skills and techniques, give inspiration to ideas and help you on your way to discovering your own creative identity.

Although this may be rewarding and supply basic tools for one’s creative development, it is something that my friends and I are often resistant to. The conversation about being one with your ideas and finding confidence in the fact that they are yours from the very start often winds its way into our discussions. For we all have them, our sources of inspiration. The role models, exhibitions and significant works of others that so easily trigger our creative initiative that fuels our own art. We study them, imitate them, become inspired by them and surround ourselves with them on a daily basis because we are told to, because it’s supposed to help us.

During my high school years in Sweden, I took a creative writing course to improve my writing skills. At this time I had a friend whose sister was a spectacular character. She always ended up in all sorts of absurd situations and we could spend hours on my friend’s living room couch talking about her latest antics and conquests. I’d write down these stories in my bedside writing book before I went to sleep, and gradually those small random notes evolved into a short novel that my teacher marked to the highest grade. But instead of being proud of my improvement, my entire body was filled with guilt. The character was not my own, the events taking place in the story were told to me by someone else. How could I call this story a creation of my own? Did it belong to me or someone else?

I have a consistent fear within my creative mind, of the day when I suddenly end up there in the dim blurred spotlight with everyone pointing out the bits and pieces that belong to the others before me, the ones that I have surrounded myself with for so long and passionately. Facing the fear that, of all those pieces, not one belongs to myself.

My influences feel annoyingly transparent and all I want to say already feels said. For many years, my idols, role models and sources of inspiration have felt more like a burden than a strength. A flock of demons that sit on the top of my shoulder gently reminding me that my originality only exists in my imagination.

For me, originality and success go hand in hand. In order to be successful in the artistic sector I must contribute with something new, something innovative. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant but what is important to recognise is the ambitious stress this sort of mindset creates. It will slow your creative process down to zero.

Over the years I have discovered that the projects I start in my own intimate and personal space for my own enjoyment, away from the perceived eye of the public, is the projects I get the most out of. They are not there to be revealed or tracked down. It does not matter anymore if my source of inspiration shines through and reveals traces of creativity that once belonged to someone else. That stress is no longer there and at last I have succeeded.

How do I learn to manage the unbearable thought that nothing I create is coming straight from my bare mind? By recognising that all my ideas are intrinsically connected to my inspiration, that the two are inseparable and that it would in fact, be a great injustice to remove one from the other.

David Bowie once said, “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from”.

Reading this eased my mind to such an extent that I realised that once I accept that my work is no different from anyone elses; A sack of stolen goods from everything I see and hear everyday mixed with my own initiative, my creative work process not only becomes more enjoyable but also more rewarding, and allows new ideas to take more accommodation than what I normally would allow for in the hotel of my mind.

Learning to embrace my influences instead of hiding from them has helped me to be more confident in my creative process, I now realise the beauty in being able to find ideas in someone else’s work and to strive for the goal that someone, someday might do the same in my own.

This may not be a truth covered in shiny gold but it is a truth you can relate to.

Practice and Pedagogy: the Problem of Knowing or Not Knowing.

Joseph doubtfireEducation’s purpose is to produce knowledge. ‘Art school’, which now seems a slightly archaic term, is supposedly the ‘artistic’ catalyst for such production. The debate as to what ‘artistic knowledge’ is exactly is not absolutely definitive; it therefore comes as no surprise that as debatable are the methods of its production – the ways in which art is ‘taught’. James Elkins’ book Why Art Cannot be Taught, as its title suggests, challenges the notion that art is a teachable subject and draws on several problematic aspects of the pedagogy of art. Elkins illustrates the difficulty that the idea of teaching art poses. Teaching art, he states, which implicates teaching the making of art, is not something learnt in the same way as that of an academic subject and does not pertain to that of conventional knowledge or understanding.

A fine art education is particularly difficult to comprehend, as although the student leaves with a degree and technically is qualified, what the student has learnt must, must it not, be fairly different to that of any other education, particularly insofar as that which is learnt artistically or on an artistic level; thus a clear dichotomy between two kinds of knowledge is evident. Craftsman-like skill, conceptual understanding, the manifestation of idea into object are all, I suppose, involved in and yet removed from that which artistic-knowledge is. For example, if one were to label artistic-knowledge quite simply as ‘material understanding’, with the artist becoming a craftsman-like figure, then the ‘idea’ or conceptual understanding of the work is rendered unimportant, or rather an unimportant part of that which the artist or student-artist knows. Whereas one cannot possibly separate ‘idea’ from the making of art, without a preconceived idea (or thought) one could not possibly make art if in fact the ability (or knowledge required) to make art is the most definitive label one can bestow upon that of ‘artistic-knowledge’.

Understanding (or not understanding, as the case may be) that which artistically is learnt, which one might describe as artistic-knowledge, results in an ever more challenged notion of art education – if what is known artistically is indescribable (even unknowable), how can it possibly be taught consciously?

In a contemporary art education learning is not limited to that which is known artistically -programs of fine art education involve the theoretical, historical, philosophical and the curatorial. The student is taught several skills often employed by working artists, skills that intentionally are transferable and applicable to other areas of work or study. Such skills exist as part of an art education due not only to their relevance and necessity to work successfully as a practicing contemporary artist, but because an art education was lacking a measurable way of producing knowledge. An art education must serve the purpose of education and as a result, must meet the expectation that the student leaves qualified.

The idea of art as a qualification is challenging in itself, a notion that is further problematised when one considers an art qualification in relation to other (particularly academic) qualifications. It is possibly the implementation of theory and history that bridges the gap between that which is learnt as a result of an academic education and that which is learnt as a result of an artistic education – the uncertainties of what artistic-knowledge (or the ability to make work) is alongside the implementation of art school into the realm of the university and academy (a motion which has drawn an unspoken parallel in the sense of the production of knowledge) created the need for an ability to measure that which is learnt – the student dissertation is an example of that which is measured within either variety of education. The qualified artist quite obviously does not know the same as the qualified scientist, either practitioners breadth of knowledge may overlap, but what it is that either knows can never exist on a parallel level, as either has different skills and abilities (one might go as far as saying that one has the ability to make work and the other does not, although there is without doubt exceptions to this rule). The type of knowledge produced by either academia or art seem incomparable, although theoretically exist on the same plane; a BA (Hons) degree in either fine art or in Science technically have the same academic value.

Joseph doubtfireSeparating that which is learnt artistically from that which is learnt theoretically, philosophically, historically or curatorially is challenging, if not impossible. These are factors that have become wholly engrained within an art education but also the way in which contemporary art is practiced and the way one thinks about practicing art. One might argue that making art is inclusive of simply that – making, and that practicing art and the knowledge one gains from such activity is separate from that of theory, philosophy, history or even the curatorial. But to understand the relationship between these ideas and the making of art, one must imagine the academic and the artistic as two separate entities – what would art be without theory, history or philosophy?

So much a part of the way contemporary art is made is understanding what it is that has been made – the way in which a particular work performs. We not only attempt (and are taught) to understand what it is we have made, but so often that understanding is relative to particular theories and/or histories. The emphasis on knowledge-production, not as opposed to, but in addition to the production of visual art has meant a dramatic shift in the seriousness of an art education. Theoretical, historical, philosophical (and to some extent, curatorial) aspects of studying art, no doubt became a more integral fixture and are parallel to the introduction of art into the syllabus of academic institutions and the translation of many art schools into art universities. Programmes of study such as the Master of Fine Arts and the practice-based PhD are examples of ways in which the pedagogy of art has moved to exist more in accordance with ideals of the academic. Practice-based research, which programs of study such as the Master of Fine Arts and the practice-based PhD are involved with, attempt to produce knowledge (in an artistic sense) which exists in problematic correlation with that of scientific or academic knowledge, although is not in opposition completely.

What artistic knowledge is, is hugely challenging, therefore as challenging is understanding exactly what it is that an art education teaches its students – what the student learns. Artistic knowledge,which we know to understand as knowledge, which allows the artist the ability to make work, exists in a wholly individual sense – the knowledge required by the artist to make work is dependent and interchangeable on that which the artist wants to make/is making. Art education no longer concerns itself with the teaching of traditional craft to an entire class (or year) of students, therefore it’s necessary for the education that is delivered to be as diverse and wide-ranging as its students and the work they produce. Presumably, this need for diversity is where the dialogical and conversational methods of art education have stemmed from – with a personal tutor, group critiques etc, the education is more or less personalised to that of the individual.

Self-motivation and self-driven practice (and by extent, learning by means of one’s self) are the basis of the current pedagogical method, which is employed as a pivotal role in the way the student-artist learns (and is taught). The implementation of student-lead learning, or really, the eradication of lecturer-lead learning challenges the idea that the master knows more than the student. The course if nothing else, teaches its students to problem solve. Dialogue and critique employ the notion that the artist or student-artist knows the most about their work, but benefit from an open dialogue surrounding it. The idea of looking at other art is the method employed to allow the student an understanding of how to position themselves in regards to contemporary art. Although theoretical, historical and curatorial understanding is commonplace within most art education on and above a degree level, the rhetoric of an art course is making, this is easily overlooked. An art education is, at its core, an allegorical, microcosmic view of working as an artist – the idealistic student routine goes something like; wake up, make work, sleep, wake up, make work. Yes, there are lectures and seminars, talks and course meetings; the fluidity of practicing art is made rigid with such activity, not to mention the requirements of the course (such as grading criteria). The student-artist writes and thinks but above all they make-work and they learn to understand how they make work, what it means to make work, and what that knowledge means.

Joseph doubtfire

What’s mine is yours

What’s mine is yours

Discussing the perks of working within a shared studio community

As much as I refuse to acknowledge it, everything is about to change. The life that I have spent the last three years cultivating will very soon be coming to a close and – as well as having to leave a beautiful house in Sheffield and move back in with (deep breath) my parents – I’ll also be geographically separated from the group of creative people I’ve come to know and value (cue the violins). The only consolation is knowing that I am by no means the only fine art graduate that will be walking this road.

Of course, I’m being rather melodramatic and it isn’t the dark ages – I’ve got trusty Facebook and Twitter to help me keep in virtual contact with the people I’ve met across my studies. But that’s not what I really want. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy friendly banter just as much as the next person. But what I know I’ll really be grieving for is the studio.

Art Studio

The space.

The knowing that there’s a specific place I can go to where I can make a mess. Or I can just sit and think. Or I can talk to someone about those very thoughts. And that right there is the crux of it – someone; having a someone to bounce ideas around with. The idea of not having anywhere to gather with like-minded people on an almost daily basis is a daunting thought, especially after being so privileged whilst at University. Speaking as an artist who often makes fairly large, sculptural work, the physical space of the studio has been integral to my making process. However, the emphasis of importance is far less on the architecture and much more on the people it houses.

A truth generally acknowledged on art courses is that students who work in close proximity often begin to produce art that bears some similarity to that of the people they work alongside. In a setting where difference and innovation is the goal, this should seem a strange phenomenon. But because artists are working amongst one another, talking to each other and sharing ideas (probably as well as material resources – it’s really handy when your peers love shiny textiles as much as you do) – there is sure to be some overlapping of interests which then surface in what they produce. Seeing how another artist works enables you to view your own process from the outside and establish why it is that you do things one way and not another. But sometimes what it shows you is that someone else is doing it better. It has often been this realisation that has helped to refine areas within my work that I felt unclear about. Recognising the similarities between art practices also makes it possible to determine the differences – this open balance builds a willingness to enter into collaboration with other artists, as you both explore your making together.

Art Studio

The opportunity to collaborate (particularly within the safety of a learning environment) can be an incredibly rewarding venture. S1 Artspace – a Sheffield based artist studio and gallery – has recently been the backdrop for projects pushing the boundaries of what shared studio spaces can mean. Launched by artist Keith Wilson, the gallery has been providing a place for artists to inhabit a completely unrestricted studio environment and question the format of what an art school should look like. Hester Reeve – a performance artist and lecturer at Sheffield Institute of Arts – utilised this freedom by taking over the space with her art and philosophy class. The 24 Hour Origin of the Work of Art Lecture was – as the title suggests – a 24 hour lock-in, in which Martin Heidegger’s text was given as the main topic of the ‘lecture’. When recounting the experience, Reeve said, ‘It allowed me to feel like I was part of a brethren – we were all committed to the same space and time. It felt like creative exploration.’

In comparison with her more regular teaching schedule, she commented that the intense time period was ‘much more conducive for linking theory to practice than a one hour lecture’ and that she much preferred the relationship she had with her students in that setting.

Art Studio

Live together, talk together, work together. In a lot of ways, this project truly emphasises the strengths of entering into a space dedicated to artists becoming a community. The atmosphere bred within shared spaces of creative work is one not only of friendship but also of development. It seems straightforward to say that where people with common goals congregate, there will be conversation and hopefully encouragement. In my experience of an art studio, it is not just encouragement that occurs but a sharing and expanding of ideas. When I asked Ashley Holmes – an artist who works across video, sound and sculpture and one of four final year students to receive a place on S1 Artspace’s studio bursary programme in 2013 – about his time in the space, he replied:

Working in a shared studio is such a rich experience; that sense of community and simply having people around has been invaluable to me. I’ve been able to be in constant dialogue, bounce ideas off of people and receive feedback, meaning that the things I was thinking about within my practice (as well as things I hadn’t really considered) could be addressed thoroughly.

In terms of the bursary opportunity itself, Ashley said:

It not only provided a studio space in the city but also tutorials with artists and curators from the area which again, gave me some invaluable feedback and things to think about to move my work forwards. First and foremost, everyone is friends and it was generally a real comforting and exciting environment to be in.

With all of this in mind – as I stare at my bedroom, now filled with all the materials that composed my corner of the studio – I’m determined to continue to engage with a space that begins with people and leads to an exploration of new creative territories. This next post-university chapter will see me moving back to East London in order to be involved with a group set on regenerating an abandoned night club for use as an artist studio space. I hope they like sharing shiny materials too.


Sarah Botha


Even though I’m heading back south, Sheffield has some fantastic spaces that cater especially to new graduates and fresh-faced artists. Here are some points of contact for three of the city’s creative hubs:

S1 Artspace

Bloc Projects

Yorkshire Artspace