S O C I A L E N G A G E M E N T A N D A R T I S T F I L M
ART WITH INTEGRITY, HONESTY AND DIGNITY
ART FOR ALL PEOPLE
I have always believed in the principle that art belongs to all humanity, and as artists we seek to create work that speaks of humanity's very existence. It can be both playful or serious, it can be niche or broad, but always it is a gift we give to ourselves, to verbalise the feelings of the soul, and to explore our place within the universe.
In my practice, I have always been interested in the role of the 'receiver' or audience. I have always sort to create artworks that 'exist' in the world, not just within the setup of a venue for art. In 2009 I began creating a series of work of ephemeral ice sculptures. These sculptures would be abstract forms, often spherical, with inks, dyes, materials and items frozen within the forms. The sculptures would be suspended in large glass tanks full of water. Throughout the duration of any showcase, they would melt, their form bleeding colours, materials would fall, and their structure would collapse. Audiences would watch, enthralled, as the sculpture transitioned before their very eyes. Each side of the tank became a viewing screen. From here I moved my artistic exploration of movement, into creating film; a process that plays with the very materials of time and space.
Alongside these developments in my practice, I was also exploring social engagement, and accessibility within the arts. I was a founder of the art collective Woolgather, whose very mission was to create opportunities for artists to reach new audiences, as we reached out to eclectic audiences with open arms. Two of Woolgather's more reknowned initiatives were the Woolgather Art Prize, and Woolgather's Art Vend (art vending machines, placed within public spaces that saw over 12,500 unique pieces of artwork created, all available for just £1, with funds leading to the commission of further artworks). As I explored participation and social engagement through these events and initiatives, I was also training myself in creating art in film. For me, film is the art of visual poetry. It is a vessel in which we can traverse time and space and place a window onto any world. This is extremely valuable as an artform as it can take a viewer into the most intimate of spaces. I have used film to tell stories, celebrate and showcase artists, arts organisations, cultural initiatives, communities, charities and more.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ART
Having worked within the role of representing the voice of artists, individuals and communities, I have come to greatly value what a huge responsibility artists have in creating any artwork that will be consumed by an open public. Throughout history we have seen the negative impact media, propaganda and artwork can create in segregating communities. I began making artist film to be a counter to this, to unite people by sharing portraits of humanity, by showing each person through a lens empowered by care and sensitivity.
As artists we navigate this world and comment on it. The nature of building a successful art practice means visibilty at very young stages in any career. I acknowledge now, even after 17 years as an artist, how much I am still learning, and how much I may never know. This means that we must be so aware, as we represent the voice of groups, communities and individuals, that we are always striving to do it with the utmost care, attention, sensitivity, empathy and knowledge. That we are listening to them, and surpassing ingrained societal prejudice, and stereotypes; that we are acting with absolute integrity, sincerity and open curiosity. Our aim must always be to create presentation with dignity. All people deserve dignity, no subject is there to be used, they are there to collaborate through their own consent, and to be represented justly.
As artists, we have the vision, talent and ability to showcase our world in ways no one else might ever imagine. This is an essential opportunity for us to unite humanity, and bring it together through bridges of care, empathy, understanding, and honest curiosity.
A CORE EXAMPLE OF PARTICIPATION AND FILM AS TOOLS FOR COMMUNITY COHESION AND REPRESENTATION
The Story of Doe Lea was developed from a film and artist residency in which I worked within an ex-mining village to rebuild community cohesion through the creation of films and engaging events and workshops. In particular I looked to address the divide by the 'old' and 'new' parts of the village, in particular a group of young people who were seen as trouble makers to the community. I aimed to build bridges through listening, open dialogue and inclusion. The residency culminated in the Doe Lea Festival which brought together record numbers of people to the community centre to experience the film premiere, photography exhibition (archive and contemporary photography) and performances.
I spent a year to build trust and connection with the village, and I was honoured to be welcomed into the community. At the end of the residency I was made an honourary 'Watta Rat' an award that I had been told had not been granted for a long time (I might have heard 25 years!)
Doe Lea taught me methods I still use years later; methods grounded in respect, care, and enthusiasm, for the stories of every person I meet. Community filmmaking is about understanding that every person involved is essential to the project, and ensuring they feel heard.
Positions I have held and currently hold are filmmaker for: Music in Kirklees/ Kirklees Year of Music 2023, Woven in Kirklees Festival, Leeds International Festival, Nomad Clan, LeedsBID, Huddersfield Bid, Arts Council Collection, British Dodgeball, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Yorkshire Sculpture International, Hopeful Families, Music and Arts Production (MAP) Charity, Leeds Art Gallery, Curious Monkey Theatre, Mencap, Bolsover District Council, Warwickshire County Council, East Street Arts, the Art Hostel, Morley Arts Festival, Rushbond PLC, Halifax Opportunities Trust, BEAM, Creative Wakefield, the Children's Art School, Wakefield Lit Fest to name some.