Irish artist Sean Lynch in his County Limerick studio

Irish artist Sean Lynch in his County Limerick studio

Sean Lynch represented Ireland at 2015’s Venice Biennale with his installation Adventure: Capital. The piece, which combined video, sculpture and graphic prints to trace a journey around Ireland and Britain, is typical of Lynch’s multimedia practice. Much of his work concerns forgotten histories and tends to be the result of years of research. Adventure: Capital is currently on tour in Ireland. Lynch’s new exhibition, The Weight of the World, at Phoenix Exeter and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, is informed by the museum’s artefacts, such as their recent acquisition of a hoard of Roman coins.

I get up at 7am. I’ll often have a thought or idea pop up as I’m trying to get to sleep, and the work I make often requires speaking to other people – you can’t always find answers just by googling things. So the first thing I do is plan who I need to call that day.

My studio is 20 paces from my front door. I live with my wife and baby daughter on the outskirts of Askeaton in Limerick, by the Shannon estuary. We live in what would have been the lighthouse keeper’s home and his office next door is now the studio. There’s room for storage, and a black and white darkroom. I share the studio with my wife, Michele Horrigan, who’s also an artist. We studied together in Frankfurt in the mid-2000s.

Adventure Capital Credit: Sean Lynch

Adventure Capital Credit: Sean Lynch

I imagine I’m tidy but I’m not sure Michele would agree. Seamus Heaney once said something about how you don’t want your studio to be too nice, because you’d never get anything done.

We have an open door policy. We run an artist residency in the town and artists come from all over the world. Often they’ll be using the studio, too. It’s a friendly place.

I used to listen to Punk tapes while I worked, and Fugazi and Mogwai, and a really good local band called The Poke. But but I got a bit sick of it. Now it’s a pretty quiet space.

Lunch gives me a chance to socialise with other local artists. It’s part of our rhythm. We talk about our work and help each other out. The other day, they were helping me shoot a video and we had to pop a bottle of champagne as part of it, so we were left with an open bottle at 11.30am. That disappeared over lunch.

I use my walls as workspace. When I’m working on pieces that involve slide projections, the walls are covered in photos to help me sequence them. But when I’m making sculptures – which usually happens on site – the walls are bare. The studio has to be flexible, so that it can used for anything.

People are always coming in and out of the studio. They’re not assistants, exactly: one friend helps with woodwork, another is a whiz on the computer and is great at video-editing. We have a communal way of working. I like to give over control: it’s not about being a genius, it’s about a meeting of minds and a meeting of different skills.

 The DeLorean In progress Credit: Sean Lynch

The DeLorean In progress Credit: Sean Lynch

I often revisit old pieces. They might need to be reformatted for an exhibition, or I might have learned a new piece of information through exhibiting them. In 2010, I made a piece about the DeLorean motor car factory being shut down, and whenever it’s exhibited people tell me they knew someone that worked there. It would be boring if an artwork knew exactly what it was. It’s much more exciting for it to change over time, so that its personality develops in the way ours do.

I work on multiple pieces at once. Sometimes I’ll be researching something for years, but sometimes I’ll make works in just a day or two.

I feed my inspiration by discovering untold stories. I’m interested in the role of history – especially forgotten history – in our lives. One of my projects is about two brothers from Oxford who carved monkeys onto the city’s museums. I wanted to encourage people to look up and see how they changed the cityscape.

When I get artist’s block, I get on with the practical stuff. Making work is a long term process, so it’s not necessarily about producing art every day. If I can’t get my ideas going, I can work on publications for my exhibitions, or some of the organisational tasks.

Installation view of the piece The Irish House Credit: Sean Lynch

Installation view of the piece The Irish House Credit: Sean Lynch

I‘ve also found it to be true that you don’t always have to start with a good idea: the bad ones can turn out to be much more interesting – and I’m pretty good at those.

I write notes on my hand. I’ve started using my mobile to take pictures of things I want to remember, too, but I like the idea that I can write a note on my hand and look at it later in the day – sometimes it doesn’t make sense at first, but then the memory will come.

I never really finish work. The studio door is always open, so if there’s some little thing I didn’t finish during the day I’ll pop back in at 11pm, after we’ve put my daughter to bed.

To relax, I watch Keith Lemon on TV. I like any kind of trash television. I play snooker, too, though badly.

I get about six hours of sleep. Although since we’ve had our baby, I’m ready for a power nap at any time of day.

21 June 2016

Opportunities for both institutions and artists to collaboratively reframe themselves happen rarely; structures and practices shift into patterns over time, manifesting into certain forms, truths, that are difficult to shift. Collaboration is a point of departure and discovery, offering challenges that if embraced impact on the way that ideas and processes can take form in future work.

img_5675__largeThroughout October and November 2015, Trevor Pitt undertook a residency at Spacex that explored collaboration, focusing on its use as a strategy for artists making ‘things’, and ‘making things happen’ and shifting the focus from discussion to active engagement. Pitt’s practice builds platforms, his previous work ‘Cannon Hill Art School’ manifested a project that offered 72 Birmingham residents the opportunity to study a subject that is for many increasingly out of reach.img_5751__large

These works are underpinned by the deep sense of fascination Pitt holds for the approaches and iconography developed in Black Mountain College by Josef and Anni Albers, and the transformational nature of study through experimental practice. Albers danced through Pitt’s residency, his electric engagement projected through a short video alongside an installation of platforms for collaboration and furniture developed from Albers’ designs by Pitt and made by Malcolm Robertson, Spacex’s Technical Manager. The gallery space was transformed through these acts into a place in which Pitt tested ideas through educational collaboration. School children came to curate exhibitions alongside PGCE students, FE Art and Design students discovered a DIY aesthetic in BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) then shared and tested the results through an event they held out of college hours.

img_5857__largeCentral to Pitt’s concerns at Spacex was the creation of Preston Street Union, in which Pitt invited fifteen artists local to Exeter to join him throughout his residency, to form an association through which they would actively collaborate. Preston Street Union was informed by a series of guest speakers, all artists who Pitt has previously collaborated with. Juneau Projects, Claire Thornton and Emily Warner each visited Spacex to introduce their work through presentations and direct activity. I fleetingly manifested the collaborative projects that focus my practice via Skype. This element of the residency was given its own visual identity by designer Keith Dodds, another of Pitt’s long- term collaborators.

img_6034__largeAt the core of Preston Street Union are ongoing direct questions for both the participants and Spacex that focus on the relationships they can build together and how these then can be sustained for future work. Within the spaces in which artists are brought together there are undeniable opportunities to collectively support diverse individual practices, through the fostering of critical engagement with the contexts and connections that form innovative work. Artists, spaces and projects are strengthened through critical engagement, gaining the confidence to see beyond the context of their immediate surroundings for a greater sense of connectivity. Associates’ schemes set up by Castlefield Gallery, Eastside Projects, G39, S1 Artspace and Spike Island continue to offer artists unique opportunities to expand and develop their creative (artistic, curatorial and written) networks through the offer of direct participation and exchange. Each associates’ scheme shares the dynamically ambitious local/international ecologies which they continue to forge, engage and inform through cross regional residences, callouts and projects.

img_6091__largePreston Street Union have been selected for mentoring by Visual Arts South West and continue discussions as to how they can evolve and work together as collaborators and peers. As these dialogues are undertaken there is an opportunity for reciprocity. The strength of Spacex has been its commitment to supporting risk in artists’ practices. This is a critical moment for artists both regionally and nationally to support Spacex as it engages with new aims to pioneer itself as a resilient organisational structure in the visual arts, and to work with projects that focus the institution beyond the gallery into embedded engagement with local populations. Spacex’s support has been galvanised through Pitt’s residency, which has focused how the institution can maintain a reputation for excellence at a national level, while increasing its participation and engagement with regional audiences. Situations born out of flux offer opportunities for imagination and re-creation. As projects shift they call in turn for us to respond, to work with them and see them anew.

Text by Cathy Wade
Published by This is Tomorrow Magazine

16 March 2016

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Children, teachers and parents visited University of Exeter last Saturday to take a look at the exhibition documenting the project their school has been involved with for the past five years. The display is designed to encourage people to take a closer look and includes peep boxes and photo opportunities for Arctic landscape selfies.  Artist Trevor Pitt also dropped by to take a look, his residency at Spacex during autumn 2015 provided the themes of ‘Curation and Collaboration’ for the project’s most recent work.

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7 March 2016

I was lucky enough to be one of the artists from across Exeter who ventured out of their studios and gravitated to Spacex at the invitation of Trevor Pitt, the artist in residence. Without realising it in our weekly hub, hosted by Spacex, we started to form an artists’ collective called Preston Street Union.

As a full-time self-employed artist who did not go through the art school system, I have sought out alternative training and inspiration throughout my career. Through this rather eclectic pathway, I have, again and again, found that artist or practitioner-led learning can be top notch.

This is exactly the timbre of Trevor Pitt’s approach with the formation of PSU as part of his residency at Spacex, he offered a subtle and powerful provocation to artists across the region to engage with a process of meeting together, which led us through experimentation and artistic enquiry through collaboration.

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Using the work of the Bauhaus visionary Josef Albers and the unique philosophies of the Black Mountain College, ‘learning by doing’, ‘practice before theory’ and the dissolution of the hierarchy elevating fine arts above other forms, Trevor skilfully managed to get an eclectic ensemble of artists from many disciplines to collaborate with one another from the moment we arrived. The brilliant thing about this project was rather than encourage people to sit around talking about their own work (which can be very interesting but not very progressive), we were thrown into working collaboratively immediately, with mini-crits, mini-projects and exercises. The sessions were, for the most part, led by other artists bought in from further afield – including Clare Thornton, Cathy Wade and Emily Warner. Each session was surprising and eclectic, and most of all, each session was imbued with a hard to define energy.

One week the wonderful Juneau Project came to share an app that enables the activation of space, another week artist Clare Thornton came and enthused and inspired with her deeply collaborative practice, treating us to glimpses of her dynamic work.

The great pleasure of playing with materials and ideas with no specific outcome in mind was a deeply creative way to spend Tuesday nights. It was at times very moving to see what people managed to conjure out of so little. The fabulous thing was that often the tasks, always to be carried out collaboratively, had to be ready to show after just 30 minutes. This pressure was in fact what turned out to be the biggest freedom, as to work in this way is playful, informal and direct. I realised after the formal residency ended, that what was brilliant about Pitt’s curation of this residency was he laid down a fertile ground for us to learn about each others work through making new work – a true gift.

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Preston Street Union is now a thing – and like all good processes – the outcome is not yet known as to where we will go with it. Note to other artists: If Trevor Pitt comes to your neck of the woods get on the list. He’s a gift to the creative lifeblood of the towns and cities he visits, and he has a lot of great friends he brings along too.

Amy Shelton, Artist and Artistic Director of Honeyscribe

11 January 2016

In October, artist and independent curator Trevor Pitt put out a call inviting artists from in and around Exeter to join Preston Street Union, part of Trevor’s recent residency at Spacex.

The call-out offered 12 spaces but arriving at the first Tuesday evening workshop I found we numbered almost double that – and it felt like an affirming welcome to all of us, that so many had been accommodated.

In his introduction, Trevor spoke about his Cannon Hill Art School Project at mac, Birmingham and the possibilities that an experimental approach can bring to learning and making art.

Trevor said of his work that, “the idea of setting up PSU was very much influenced by my interest in the work of artist and educator Josef Albers. During the programme the group were encouraged at all times to embrace one of Albers’ key principles for developing as an artist – “look with open eyes””

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The four evening sessions lasted only 2 hours, but the pace of each was quick and exhilarating. We were encouraged to develop a relationship of exchange with the project through the direction of bringing along something to each meeting (images of our own work; an  “object, material or item that… encapsulates… current thinking or ideas”) and, for me, this had the affect deepening my sense of being an active participant.

Sessions were launched quickly, opening with a presentation from a guest artist/group (Cathy Wade, Juneau Projects and Clare Thornton) and we then followed Trevor’s ideology of learning through doing, splitting into small groups and having a maximum of 20 minutes to create a collaborative response which was then shared to the whole group.

In the final session, a day-long event facilitated by artist Emily Warner, PSU took over the Spacex building and presented the results of our whole learning through collaborative experience.

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Trevor brought a lightness of touch to the PSU project enabling trust to develop from our easy and quick connections as we formed, shifted and re-formed our small groups each session. In our responses, had no time to over-think, but just enough time to act – we needed to be spontaneous and confident and to go with our ideas.

For me, the process has been hugely beneficial. I hit absolute exhilaration, a massive buzz by the end of the final session and it came from the realisation of the ease with which the PSU Associates embarked on our final creative actions.

The principle of peer learning is vital to artistic practice at any stage – and it was a privilege to explore the potential of pushing the boundaries of our current ways of working through collaboration. We are now post project and working independently to develop PSU as a group of associates who have come together because of a shared interest in collaborating with other artists and we are strongly committed to keeping Preston Street Union going.

Kate Paxman, Artist and Producer at Smooth Space

 

 

8 January 2016

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The Typing Pool Party was unlike any pool party I have been to before. Typewriters in all colours festooned the tables of the Cavern, awaiting the creative stylings of Exeter’s best and brightest. This brought out different things in everyone – from diary-style writings about one’s life, to random thoughts, to chaotic Dadaist collections of words or phrases. In my case, naturally, this involved complaining about my job. (When you work in Pensions, a lot of your time gets taken up with complaining about your job).

I was talking to Maddy and Paul about zines on the first Wonderful Grotto, and they suggested that I come back the next week and make one myself. This is something I had been meaning to do for a long time. I went through various ideas during the week, but nothing seemed quite right. However, when I came back Maddy suggested I make portraits of the people in the Cavern that afternoon. This was perfect in its simplicity – and I’d brought my felt-tips so I was already prepared. I have often wanted to do more portraits of people, but I’ve rarely had the excuse.

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Other people of all ages were making their own zines – from collaging images to adding captions to photos of cats. Maddy and Paul provided a wealth of images collected over the years from newspapers and magazines, alongside other craft materials for us to use. It was nice to be able to make these things without any particular pressure and have them on the table at the end of the project.

7 December 2015

IMG_0452We do not always create ‘works of art,’ but rather experiments; it is not our intention to fill museums: we are gathering experience. 

– Josef Albers

This initial period of Trevor’s residency has focussed on designing the space and activities that will facilitate collaborations and test ideas. The work of the pioneering artist and educator Josef Albers is a key reference point for the residency. Pitt is reworking some of Albers classic furniture designs to create a set of ‘flat pack’ items that creates the potential for a mobile resource for artists and DIY art students alike.

IMG_8182Pitt is also exploring ways in which he can continue to develop some of the ideas from his previous project Cannon Hill Art School, Preston Street Union will help to extend this legacy providing a platform for artists based in and around Exeter to come together to learn about and make art. Find out more about PSU here.

 

 

5 October 2015

We think it’s important to share other people’s experiences of what happens during the events we host, this guest post has been written by Sarah MacGregor one of the participants in the second session led by Josie Sutcliffe. The Confidence Gap workshops were  designed to address some of the specific issues women encounter when faced with the prospect of speaking up for themselves and their work in public.

Sarah_MGIn ‘Some ideas for a new art institution’ Rosalie Schweiker envisioned the possibilities for overhauling the traditional gallery mode. In ‘The Confidence Gap’, part of Spacex’s ongoing experimentation towards realising these possibilities, Josie Sutcliffe was invited to facilitate a series of confidence-building workshops for women.

I arrived at the workshop not knowing what to expect. The attendees were of a variety of ages and backgrounds, gender being a loose thread tying us all together. Josie guided us through a selection of exercises – both physical and otherwise. One involved pairing up and learning as much as possible about your partner in a few minutes, before introducing them to the group, now a cheering audience, as one might introduce an esteemed speaker. Another exercise involved standing in a circle, walking into the centre and saying something, ranging from interesting comments or insights to someone’s full name. This was an attempt to walk and speak with confidence, and consider what it means to do so.

We discussed how we see and hear ourselves compared with how others see and hear us, considering what it means to speak as a woman, what it means to take up space as a woman – noticing the ways we tend to shrink ourselves, underestimate ourselves, and not speak up. It seems that there can be certain (negative) expectations placed on us before we have even spoken. I find this kind of discussion valuable because you start to notice where experiences which seem specific to you are actually a shared experience – not based on individual traits but structural prejudices.

In the second half of the workshop we each created a piece of work which represented us in some way to present to the group. These ranged from 2D drawings and collages to sculptures in paper or textile. I think we all appreciated the freedom of being able to play and have fun making something. After an intense morning, everyone now seemed quiet and focused.

In turns we presented our work, then gave each other feedback. The presentation of work itself became a kind of ritual. For instance, there was a sculpture you had to walk up to and look through, which we all did in a procession, or a painting which was presented in the ladies’ toilet (successfully enough, perhaps, that Spacex will consider it as a future an exhibition space? In the new art institution are all spaces exhibition spaces?)

I was one of the last to present, choosing, perhaps ambitiously, to climb up towards the top of the atrium for this. I had loosely planned out in my head what I would say, but the task was still relatively daunting. I spoke about things which had been brought up for me by the morning’s activities: something about presenting your undefined and chaotic self without fear, making vague references Egon Schiele’s ideas about bodies being lit from within and the song ‘The Light Pours Out of Me’ by Magazine.

I was impressed by the work people had made in a relatively small space of time, and even more by how vulnerable we were able to be with one another. Coming into the workshop I barely knew anyone, but within a day there was a sense of intimacy amongst us. One thing which made this a rewarding and engaging experience was how much everyone got involved, even when it was difficult. As others opened up, it became a space where we were more able to be vulnerable with one another.

25 September 2015

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Diagram; Rosalie Schweiker

What happens when artists take on the role of consultant? Over the past few months Spacex has been working with artist Rosalie Schweiker who was commissioned to facilitate a process that has allowed the organisation to think about it’s future and share ideas with the communities that are also interested in our  plans.

Spacex has always supported artists to take risks in developing their practice and we felt it was important to involve artists in redefining ways in which we could continue to do this. Some Ideas for a New Art Institution was the first of our collaborations with artists that suggest and test new ways of working for Spacex.

Rosalie’s 10 point proposal for a ‘new art institution’ was drawn up after conversations with the Spacex team and other locally based artists.

Some Ideas for a New Art Institution

  • The new art institution is a new pattern of behaviour
  • The new art institution does not have an audience it has users
  • The new art institution is run by a committee of people who co-inhabit roles as fundraisers, administrators, archivists, hosts, cleaners, organisers, educators and artists.
  • The new art institution has a goldfish,which is involved in the day to day decision making
  • The new art institution fights inequality. It openly debates issues of class, race and gender
  • The new art institution is a feminist art institution. It does not harvest content, but gives structural support to enable the production and enjoyment of art
  • The new art institution is a welcoming, intergenerational meeting place
  • The new art institution knows that form follows budget. It does not do more than it can afford. It does not exploit it’s staff and users with the promise of exposure
  • The new art institution is supported by public funds and subscriptions
  • The new art institution is not in London

This document has been tested and debated in a number of ways. Schweiker says of her work “I think what I do is I create situations and contexts in which things happen that wouldn’t usually happen. I create structures in which people can meet that haven’t met before and have exchanges that they wouldn’t usually have.” Some of these situations have included hosting meals, meetings and workshops. A pub-crawl with Blind Ditch’s Paula Crutchlow and John Sealy from Fabian’s Film were part of the closing series of events that also included the final Confidence Gap workshop for women led by Josie Sutcliffe.

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This project has been open ended, challenging and very different to the more usual exhibition format we have been used to so a big thanks to everyone who has taken part. We will be commissioning resourses that share some ideas and reflections from Some Ideas for a New Art Institution in the near future.

 

21 September 2015

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When artist Rosalie Schweiker proposed having a big meal to launch her project at Spacex, Some ideas for a new art institution we really liked the idea. We issued an open invitation and, on the day of the meal, Rosalie set up a makeshift kitchen in the gallery using the two ring electric hob from the staff kitchen. Rosalie and Spacex staff spent the afternoon cooking and chatting in the gallery and that evening we welcomed 30 guests to Spacex  for a sociable meal.

After the first course a few guests asked if Rosalie Schweiker was going to make a speech or explain her manifesto, which was displayed prominently above the self-serving area. She didn’t do this. Instead she toured the tables having conversations in-between making and serving waffles and ice cream. Without prompting people began discussions about what their own manifesto for a new arts institution might be. People wrote ideas on the paper tablecloths or in the ideas book.

Schweiker uses hospitality in her work often. Examples include The Pizza, a monthly pizza dinner in honour of an artist whose work she likes (with Hannah Clayden, Jo Waterhouse and Mario D’Agostino, since 2013) or Sleep with a Curator, in which she organises a sleepover in a galleryIn bringing people together in this way she fosters critical engagement and sparks off encounters between people. Look out for Rosalie’s next events, which will be equally sociable…she is planning a film night, a pub-crawl, and a family friendly meal. We hope to see you there!

 

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12 August 2015