Sunday, 21 February 2010

Black Lab Week One

Minutes/meeting summary for Tues 17th Feb by Michael Burkitt

In’t Lab this week, Islington Art Academy presented an account of self-initiated activity and information exchange. Recognising the disillusionment amongst art graduates leaving the art schools or universities they were identifiable with, three foundation students set up their own institution in an old cotton Mill in Manchester.

Seemingly slicing into the nuts and guts of something perhaps very often overlooked in art education, the academy investigated the question what does it mean to be an artist? Sharing resources and discussion the self-directed students of Islington invited artist’s come to their school to talk about, reflect on and expose their methods. Open to anyone wishing to enrol the academy dissolved the usual hierarchy of information, resources and experience with the attitude and commitment to the idea that there should always be a mutually beneficial exchange with the people they worked with.

After this very interesting account from Morris, Maria, Amy and Michael attention turned towards the large warm space we were so comfortably seated in, a ‘space for debate’, the Lab. Andy and Dave from Black Dogs then questioned how people who had been invited might see the function of Lab. It seemed to me it would be a place for honest discussion, a place to initiate critical debate, experiment with anomalies, probe new resources and evaluate practice. Dave asked people to perhaps begin to think about taking ownership of the space and respond via email within this initial framing.

Thus far Liz from Contents May Vary, who attended has suggested pooling catalogues from shows we don’t read anymore, bits of essays from critical journeys from past years, books from charity shops into a temporary library of all the art bumpf we all pick up at shows from around the country. In addition she thought a series of talks by artists around the place would be a grand agenda.

Liz didn’t think at this time it would be helpful trying to work towards an exhibition, She thinks that it would end up focusing too much on the show and any discussion would always have that in mind somewhere. Believing residencies would be more useful within the timescale.

Martha, International Film Festival, Exp 24 and Ma student in World Cinema at Leeds Uni wants to do 1 whole day of films, 5 feature films, lasting a total of about 10 hours. Everyone coming will be asked to bring some food or fruit or drink contribute, so people can eat together as well, and a sleeping bag or pillow if they think they might want to stay for the whole thing and have a kip. People can come at any time to watch the films, which will start every 2 hours from midday.

Stu, Lumen, sound artist and musician (Quack Quack) has given us a head’s up about a Toshimaru Nakamura Gig. The ace 'no-input' mixing desk wizard is in Manchester Next Wednesday but thinks a Leeds gig on the Tuesday would be splendid?

Please respond to these ideas and send your own. In fact Andy suggested that each person,who was there on Tuesday add their own personal minute to these minutes. In order to collectively remember or comment on proceedings.



Audio recordings from the evening can be downloaded from here.

Suggestions by Email from Stu Bannister

Here are my thoughts regarding the Green Sands space and ideas relating to the 'free art school' idea.

As I said, I'm really keen on the critique/conversation aspect, I'd like my work to be less private and to explore it in an open situation. The idea of conversation around anyone's work appeals of course, i'd consider it all valuable and beneficial.

Also, the laboratory idea appeals - somewhere to try things out, construct things, and test things with some kind of audience present. Sharing skills too, the practical side, would be a good use of that space and i'd be keen on that too.

I'm optimistic i could 'attend' at least once a week, Tuesdays are generally good. It'd generally be evenings but my work is pretty flexible so other times of day could work on occasion too. I'd be up for coming along more than once a week for extra events, sessions etc. but don't think i could commit to this every week. There's always good old email to carry on conversations between sessions i suppose!

In terms of group size for a 'crit' session, i don't really know what would work. I imagine more than 10 people could be a bit much. The idea of dividing people up into 'disciplines' (mentioned briefly in the pub last tuesday) i.e. sound, film, watercolour painting, doesn't immediately appeal for 'crit' sessions, but could be good for 'lab' sessions. I'm not really for this idea, would have to see how well things worked. The opportunity to work 'cross discipline' is something else that appeals - or at least to hear people who work with film or pebbles or whatever speak about their work. Art is Art as far as i'm concerned! (though i don't really like watercolour paintings)

I should say here that i've mostly worked with sound thus far.

In terms of people to come and speak, my mind is a bit fuzzy. I know that Phill Harding does lecturing and workshop work and i'm intrigued to be on the receiving end that - i like his work a lot and think he'd be interesting.

Apart from that, the only name is Alvin Lucier, who i recently found out is still alive, but that could cost quite a bit.

I'll send this now and continue to think about this latter bit.

Hope this is helpful, thanks for the opportunity, see you soon,



Suggestions by Email from Will Rose

Dear Black-Dogs,

Not sure if you have a generic email but please send this to the others too. Thanks a lot for inviting me along last week. There's definitely something very interesting and necessary in the air.

The space you have is great but I don't agree with some of the comments made that places to do things in Leeds are few and far between and you should therefore open this opportunity up for as many people as possible. Personally, and you know this already from chats we've had, I'm more interested in being part of an active and discursive situation, and one which can accept and encourage experimentation and open dialogue.

The next three months is a bit mad for me. Making sure I get through my PhD upgrade, and becoming a dad again, but I want to be involved.

Some thoughts:

• For a while I've been looking for the right situation to try a few things out in my (curatorial I suppose) practice. I don't want to use people as guinea pigs but am interested in trying a few things to do with how film screening and lecture, artwork and text, might overlap, literally. It links with my PhD ultimately, and would help me loads to have a reason to invite a few people along to see whether it makes any sense.

• An idea I've had for a while is to setup a sort of film gathering. Films are expensive to get hold of sometimes and I like the idea that 2, 5, 10 people that have an interest in seeing a specific thing might commit to sharing the cost of it. Say rental and courier costs for a film are £40 and 5 people want to see it... £8 each. People watch, talk, watch again. Enjoy the opportunity to see something with others that want to see it. I'd been thinking of doing it at home but this feels like a good situation to get it going maybe.

• Just meeting up. It would be good for me just to meet and talk more to be honest. Perhaps just bringing people together is enough to begin with in some ways, and maybe from that a series of presentations and ideas could emerge. Ie interesting people to bring in and share the cost of, joint reading of texts etc...

Keep me posted. I can see you have a tricky job on your hands, figuring out what to do, how to justify not making it public. I will try to be as much help as possible so just keep me informed.

Best wishes and thanks,



Suggestions by Email from Alice Bradshaw

Thanks for inviting us to the event on Tuesday, I'm up for doing
something / being involved. For me the critical dialogue is
interesting/ important/ relevant and I'm also interested in linkages
with other like minded people (cross-disciplinary ) from other cities
too. I like the idea of inviting groups/collectives/ individuals to
present/perform/ discuss/socialis e/learn on a regular basis. Liz also
mentioned using the space for sleepovers and I think this could be
expanded to create a Home with a
Living Room (event performance presentation eating drinking
socialising) . It would be good to coincide with Leeds openings and
maybe do a long weekend each month or something.

Other thoughts are looking around structuring regular event based
meetings/gatherings to allow a degree of flexibility for a large group
of people to use as a platform for engagement but who may not be able
to make every meeting and also allowing for new people to be invited
eg Exquisite Corpse Events. This would involve the next person/group
to respond to the previous event so there is a connection between each
event but allowing for much variation and approaches to event based
activity. Whether the next person needs to attend the previous event
or whether documentation is enough to respond to I'm not sure..

I think it'd be great to document any process which is implemented,
both physically and online, and to use the physical documentation to
compile an end-of-residency type exhibition.

And I think I can speak on behalf of CMV to say we'd be up for doing
something; presentation/ discussion/ workshop/ quiz are the obvious
things to suggest without knowing what will be the structure/format if

Look forward to hearing/talking more

Alice x


Suggestions by Email from Martha

I have something I'd like to do.

A Movie Marathon!
They used to do these all the time in Iceland and it was brilliant! If totally illegal in "industry" terms.
1 whole day of films shown on DVD - so, 5 feature films, lasting a total of about 10 hours. Everyone coming will be asked to bring some food or fruit or drink contribute, so people can eat together as well, and a sleeping bag or pillow if they think they might want to stay for the whole thing and have a kip. People can come at any time to watch the films, which will start every 2 hours from midday. I'm thinking I'll have to only advertise on flyers because I won't be doing things above board with acquiring the rights etc. but it should be adequate. The films will be:

(discuss at meeting as shouldn't be published on internet)

Not necessarily in that order.

I'm thinking maybe Saturday 27th March.

x Martha


Suggestions by Email from Liz Murphy

With regards to the space, I think it would be a great oppertunity to share resources. Something that always strikes me when I speak to collectives/artists is how the majority of us struggle with resources, be that money...affording materials, books, catlogues, travel to go see shows or time off work to attend lectures or more the resources we were talking about last night, critical discussion about work/ideas.

I think the lab would be a great place to try and pool these resources, everyone has catalogues from shows they dont read anymore, bits of essays from critical journeys from past years, books from charity shops that might be relevent to theory, I know I do. I think it would be ideal to create some kind of temporary library of all the art bumpf we pick up at shows from around the country, the books we dont want (or do want...this has security implications though), the essays weve read hundreds of times, abit of a knowledge sharing excersize/swop shop!

Also perhaps a series of talks, we talked last night about inviting other artists groups to give a talk, Andy asked us and we suggested intercity mainline, and the royal standard. I was also thinking about suggesting a project I have been developing over here, Whitworth a gallery in manchester runs a series of talks every Tuesday organised by the Norths now favorite art son Pavel Buchler, which involve a great programme of international artists talking about there work, I have never been able to attend one as I worked full time, neither have any of my peers as they also walk the fine line between artists and full time employment, also none of the students can attend as they are in uni, but talks are designed with us in mind, so now I have desided to attend these talks on everyones behalf, and either deliver a 20 minute synopsis of this talk verbally or send them a brief written synopsis with links to furhur reading. I think the lab would be a great platform for something like this, an oppertunity again like the library above to share specialisms or resources that others dont get chance to access for one reason or another.

Again like we wrote on the wall last night, perhaps a series of linked events where the link is almost flippant but never the less visable. Like when you mentioned you all went to each others houses for a series of crits, every talk was different it was just the inital action was the same. Last night we were saying something like exquisite corpse, perhaps one person gives a talk and the next week the person takes the last statement from the previous weeks talk as a starting point and so on.

Most importantly I just think its a great oppertunity to have such a fantastic space to house artists that all want to do the same thing, to meet and chat and talk about work and ideas, I know all these things have to have a loose framework, but I am sure something will come together. I dont think at this time it would be helpful trying to work towards an exhibition, I think that it would end up focusing too much on the show and any dicussion would always have that in mind somewhere. Plus with time scales etc it would just be mega pressure. But perhaps something like a series of residencies would be productive though?

I was going to suggest perhaps setting up a forum or some way where we would keep the discussions we have going online so they could be accessed through the week?

Sorry if this is all abit garbled, I am aware it is coming out abit like thought free running! But I am away from tomorrow so wanted to get something to you all as quick as poss before nxt week,

Thanks again for the invite

Speak soon,

Liz x


Suggestions by Email from Dan Robinson

thanks for the invite to come along last week. was good to hear from Islington Art Academy as a prompt for discussing what/how we might do this.
I like the idea of talking and experimenting with different kinds of event between critical debate, presentation, screening, performance, spectacle, and eating and drinking. I like the open-ended started point. I am wondering a bit about how it might work - what scale / format / how many people it should be ...

some thoughts:

* for me the 3 month nice space is a useful prompt to get this going but the fact of having a space is just part of this. as a forum, club, lab thing it could also rove around.
* but having a space for bit longer could be good in terms of moving more kit in.
* some discussion was around questions of how open/public it might be. and different sizes/scales of groups for things. or how some of this might be focused around different concerns or approaches. Will mentioned a possible idea of clusters around different ideas which could be useful, but then what Stu says on the blog about being interested in everything and inviting unexpected connections between things is also good. And then what Alice on the blog says about one-off day/night events, or a changing set of people who pick up from threads from previous events is another version

and some more things:

* Privacy / Openness? private conversations and experiments Vs. documenting and making everything widely available. getting to know a handful of people with a regular dialogue Vs. events structured to allow changing sets of people.
* Informally / formally structured events. playing with this, different versions.

* How the act of documenting changes the way events/dialogues unfold
* trust / experimentation.
* Is continuity important?
* discussing-doing. doing both and some of each.
* performing. on/off-stage?

music instruments
recording equipment
foam on the chairs

also Andy and Dave mentioned some questions/burning issues that came up again and again at Black dogs presentations-about-stuff-in-each-other's-houses. I'm intrigued what the issues were?

For me at the moment i'm interested in playing with collapsing different event formats into each other a bit. and tensions between spectacle and dialogue. and music/art/event - seems there's a few people involved in cross-overs between formats here - and i'm particularly interested in that.

oh and maybe reading some stuff together could be good too.




  1. I think that the lab will be best used as a collective learning project with some kind of public output (an event and/or publication). That means that those people invited to the lab for crits, screenings, talks, seminars etc should be clear that they are invited as participants rather than as audience. I think this will inform the way we market the space and to whom.

    I was trying to get my head around what might be different about the kind of crits and discussions we have had in Black Dogs (and want to expand) in distinction to the kind of peer critiques that might be organised at PSL or in formal art education (not because these aren’t valid of course, but purely to unpick what we have and not have too much overlap). I guess when we were going to each others’ houses to present to one another it was done in a spirit of introducing ourselves through our work. That is, it was never just a discussion about the work and its formal qualities but also (more so?) about the larger intentions of the practice, the reasons for wanting to make work or be an artist.

    I think this might bring us round to Islington Mill Art Academy’s thematic question of ‘what is it to be an artist?’ which on the night I felt seemed very broad and a bit too easy to interpret as ‘at what point can one say they have an artistic career’ but on reflection perhaps this is a very pertinent question because it can be interpreted. I’m also interested in making a distinction between a collective (learning) project which is approached by individuals as of private benefit to them and one where they might feel there is a larger (as yet unformed) collective goal.

    Anyhow, they’re my thoughts for now. I hope maybe we get chance to discuss them at a meeting proper.



  2. Just a quick one to say that I really like Will's idea of a few people chipping in to pay for a film we'd like to see. I'd be up for that, definitely. I'd also very much like to make a stew (not of the bannister kind, don't worry!) at some point for people. This could be a side dish to another event, and perhaps people could bring an ingredient each to add to it so the food is pretty spontaneous. I guess it'd require a big pot and maybe only about 10 people, but I really like making food for people. So maybe get in touch with me if you're planning something and I can sort of take care of that bit? x Martha

  3. Just a few things to add before meeting tonight as I'm only going to be able to get there at 7.30pm but hopefully earlier.

    A few potential activities/things to hold in the space that I think share an affinity with the project as a whole:

    a) Placemaking action research meetings - something set up by Sue Ball that I'm involved in regarding collaborative interrogation through practice of 'placemaking' including artists, architects, councillors, stakeholders, planners, regeneration agencies etc.

    b) Time Bank for the artistic community in Leeds. Time Banks are ways of formalising non-economic skill-exchange and sharing - like an alternative currency. Recently a group Sue Ball, Sarah Spanton, Karen Watson and myself set up have secured ACE funding to pilot one of these schemes for the (wider) artistic/creative community in Leeds. It needs some kind of hub/office and I would like to propose the Green Sand as a place for that.

    c) My big shed from the Festival of Pastimes needs to find a new home and I wondered what people would think to it being in the space? It would provide us with a room in a room and some extra wall-space and it looks funny. Check it out here:!/photo.php?pid=9974910&o=all&op=1&view=all&subj=94631214764&aid=-1&id=527115692&oid=94631214764

    I guess the meetings relating to a) and b) wouldn't be open access but I could try and document them in the space somehow or make sure they leave some trace. Anyhow, food for thought and hopefully something to discuss more later on,


  4. What I remember from the meeting was that yes, it's good to discuss, but really we're going to get into a lot more interesting terrain by starting to do, and through working together, discovering things about each other. I think the move to the collective library is a great one - I have lots of films to bring down on Tuesday! - and Andy's notion of annotated texts is great too, and notes on the walls etc. so the "space becomes a place" as we're in it. I also think the move to everyone getting around 5 mins of something to share is a good one. Big up to the food-bringing too, really nice! I'd love that pasta recipe, did it have sage in it?! Regarding artists to invite, to be honest I'm more interested in the people who will be in the space frequently, and perhaps filtering other artists' work down through these people is a more creative and meaningful way of doing things, with perhaps only 1 or 2 invited guests. Otherwise that dreaded dilution occurs! Alright, see you all soon,
    x Martha


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