Joining Preston Street Union

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