Present: Steven Allbutt, Dan Robinson, Dave Ronalds, Andy Abbott, Yvonne Carmichael, Mick Welbourn, Tether, Alice Bradshaw, Slice Arts, Stuart Bannister, Lucy Bannister, Michael Burkitt, James Hill, Rob Quirk, Terry Slater.
As we were joined by five people who had not visited the Lab before (Tether and Slice Arts) we began with a quick overview of what the intentions behind the use of the space had been and some of the activity that had occurred there. Although we started out with the idea of it being a ‘Free Art School’ the project seems to have floated somewhere between a learning project and how an art collective might operate, with workshops and collective works emerging. The horizon of opening up critical discourse on art was mentioned and we described some of the events that had happened over the last ten weeks including collective watching of Inspector Morse, group listening and analyses of Simon Critchley and Alain Badiou lectures and sound workshops.
We quickly reviewed the past week’s activity which included a group-watching of Chris Marker’s La Jetee. Stu mentioned that he hadn’t seen it before and enjoyed watching it despite having just come out of another quite demanding film screening. The conversations that had occurred after the screening had touched upon Marker’s use of still photographs to mimic the way we remember things; reducing a film down to this seems both cost-efficient, effective and manipulative. Yvonne mentioned that the film had been more like a side project of Chris Marker’s – something he had done as a break from another film he was working on – and so it is interesting that it has become his most well known work.
Andy, Stu, and Yvonne then described the gig at Bradford Playhouse on Saturday at which ‘The Black Lab Ensemble’ had played. This was a performance of improvised sounds by Mick, Andy, Stu and David Thomas with responsive Super 8 projections by Martha. The sounds had been ‘bred’ in the Black Lab during one of Stu’s sound muckabout days and the video projections were of shorts by Martha and David Thomas that we’d seen in Black Lab. Yvonne described the performance as very nice and not too long. They had played in the dark and the films and video worked well. We realised it was probably one of the first public disseminations of our activity in Green Sands.
Afterwards, Tether introduced them selves and showed a DVD of a work in progress. Tether are based in Nottingham and are an artist-led group whose activity includes running artist studios, a gallery and most recently the Tethervision project which is a series of podcasts that gather together artist films, documentaries and info about artists and specially commissioned work. They showed the group a series of four interviews made on a tour of UK they undertook visiting artist-led organisations and spaces. The groups were then interviewed and the footage will be edited and uploaded to create a database or archive of artist-led activity in the UK on the Tethervision site (in progress).
The groups interviewed ranged from established long-running organisations to much more newly emerging groups made of recent graduates or students.
We watched the interviews and talked about the specific quality of the filming and the editing. It was generally felt there was something humorous about them but not in a satirical way. Tether explained that they had imagined creating a series of very high quality, professional documentaries but as it was their first attempt it probably hadn’t worked out that way. The general consensus was that that might have been a good outcome as it made the groups seem less self-important. Perhaps the artist-led community needs to laugh at itself?
We talked also about Tether’s experiences as researchers – had they found any generic characteristics or commonalities between the various artist-led groups? Tether picked up on a generally felt anxiety about funding (or the relationship between practice and funding) and questions about exactly why these groups are doing what they do when sometimes audience numbers are incredibly small and there can be a general lack of public engagement. We talked about whether any of the groups saw what they do as ‘artist-led’ groups as a stepping-stone towards the more institutional or commercial art world and, conversely, whether any groups they spoke to had a more politicised position. Tether said that few of the groups articulated there activity as directly antagonistic towards the more institutional art world and that there was a lack of politicised standpoints; most just do it because it’s how they are comfortable operating.
We talked a little about what the actual Tethervision project might achieve when it draws together all these interviews into one virtual space. Might it help create a sense of ‘collective consciousness’ in the artist-led network/community (if such a thing exists)? Could it become more self-aware and confident through such projects? We talked about how people might respond to the videos; would there be room for comments like youtube or Facebook provides? Lucy mentioned that it seems difficult to get anyone to comment on material unless it is on Facebook. Also, might there be possibility for groups to upload their own interviews without the need for Tether to have met them? It could be a really vital and exciting project.
Slice Arts then talked a little about what they have done and their experiences in Leeds. They are an open-collective of individuals who are studying on art courses at various institutions in the city. They started by having lectures and meetings at one another’s houses and this has led on to their facilitation of a network that aims to build connections between the three educational institutions in Leeds (University of Leeds, Leeds Met Uni and Leeds College of Art). They recently held an exhibition at the old TK Maxx space in Leeds Shopping Plaza as part of the Art in Unusual Spaces scheme which is where Yvonne and James first worked with them. We talked about the parallels between Slice and Tether’s projects, how they both reflect a desire to know that we as artists or as people in art education are not alone. Do such projects help create a sense of belonging? Might they help reduce anxiety and insecurities surrounding artist-led activity and the kinds of competitive and sometimes frustrated actions that emerge from that?
We talked about the pressure that might be felt to be inclusive and to allow room for as many people to be involved as possible. This is common to Slice as it is to the Black Lab project and to some of the groups that Tether interviewed (in relation to audience numbers and public engagement). Does more people necessarily mean better dialogue, or more democratic or representative conversation? In our experience we have found that with larger numbers comes the pressure to look for sameness rather than to try and unpick and unearth the specific differences (and points of agreement) within a small group. Smaller groups can allow for better reflection and as such better ‘representation’ of views. Perhaps the drive towards quantitative over qualitative inclusivity is something we should be wary of.
Tether, Slice, James, Mick, Steve, Rob, Terry and Michael then had to leave for trains etc. After a short break we got back together to plan the forthcoming week’s activity. Yvonne will be showing ‘Some Kind of Monster’ at 7pm on Wednesday. Stu has advertised the Alvin Lucier and 24-hour jam on Cops and Robbers website and Leeds Music Forum and put something out on LVAF. We talked about how to split the shifts for the 24-hour music jam to make sure there was always a responsible ‘code-keeper’ in place. We got numbers for the Sunday Feast and talked about who would be coming; could we make it more open (i.e bring a guest) so that perhaps it begins to introduce the Black Lab project to people that might be interested in being involved in any future developments?
Lucy then recapped on her conversation with Eleanor at the Bradford Playhouse and that it might be good to visit as Black lab to watch the Detroit film. We finished by discussing Lucy’s offer to write something about Black Lab for the Culture Vulture blog. After discussing the pros and cons (it would be great to have something about the activity in Black Lab on the blog but it will be difficult to reflect what it is in 500 words) it was left open as to how the events might be documented. Perhaps a photo-diary or sound-bites might be a possible approach? Dan raised the question; at what point will we feel like we have something that reflects the activity or the Black lab project as a whole? Is now as good a time as ever? Is it ever likely to become more coherent than it is presently? Perhaps when our time in Green Sands is over we can make efforts to address these questions.
Then we went to the pub.
All to attend/organise activities for the coming week (including registering a place at the Sunday Feast) and advertise on Blog. See blog for details.
Next general meeting Tues 27th April at 6pm. Activity until then includes Metallica docu (Weds), Alvin Lucier and 24-hour Jam (Thurs/Fri), Performance Workshop (Sat), Last Supper (Sunday)