In 2017 I was selected by Battersea Art Centre to be a Artist on their Agents of creative change programme for artists, public and third sector professionals, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
The programme invites people working in the charitable or public sector to come forwards with a challenge. That challenge might be in their professional environment, in their community, or both. They will then use their own creativity, and the creative inspiration of an artist, to tackle that challenge in a creative and playful way.
Each year, Battersea Arts Centre recruits an unlikely group of people to make new connections across sectors. Each practitioner is paired with an artist and, through workshops led by key speakers, the whole group share practice, ideas and trial solutions to the presented challenges.
I was paired with Growing underground a sustainable farm that is housed 33 meters underground. I spent time on the farm packing salad leaves, cleaning floors and talking to members of staff. I was shown the tunnels that had not been used for farming and there was an incredible amount of space…as a Artist in London space is something that is constantly talked about, how do we afford, claim, and resist being complicit in gentrifying spaces? GROUNDED was a residency 6/10 month for 3 Artist’s who would be given the use of a huge underground space in exchange for a community workshop/ a staff intervention/ and a blog post. Growing Underground were intrigued to see how they could involve the community and if there was interest for community outreach so my idea was that Artists would experiment with this concept in exchange for a unique space.
GROUNDED Artists Serra Tansel, LIew Watkins, Naomi Avsec have written about their experiences.
GROUNDED residency gave us access to a very stimulating space and a very rich context to work with. The application procedure for the residency felt really considerate and personal as Amy and Olivia hosted visits to the space and met everyone in person before we submitted our proposals. Although Amy’s project was completed by setting up the residency, she still organised group crits with us and spared a lot of her time and energy to help me with my funding application, as she genuinely cared.
During my time in the tunnels, I produced a video work Heavens! that I am really happy with. The residency’s acknowledgment of my practice also helped me to receive more support from SAHA and Arts Council which enabled me to work with a team.
As I got more involved with Growing Underground, I started working for them casually, doing in-store demos of their salads in organic supermarkets. Heavens! is constructed around a real event, a homeless person asking me “Will I go to heaven if I eat these herbs?” whilst sampling the micro herbs in Planet Organic. The video follows this person from the supermarket to heaven via the urban farm and the desolate war shelters. It draws a parallel between homelessness and humankind’s journey towards Earthlessness as the products of the same consuming mechanisms.
The homeless character in the film was acted by my friend Amber who has lived without a home for 8 years. Ece, my friend who is in the Committee on Climate Changeand the Natural Capital Initiative, acted the farmer. Because of their experiences, Ece and Amber were able to help me with character development and the dialogues so we had a very collaborative production with the acteresses, the videographer Evre and myself.
GROUNDED provided me with a lot of space to grow and extend my practice and I hope I was able surface some of my experiences in the underground tunnels with my video.
My time as a resident artist at Growing Underground gave me an opportunity to have a studio that I would not have been able to afford elsewhere in London. It was wonderful to have so much space in such an unusual environment to work on sculptural installation. The duration – eight months – allowed me to really settle and then go deep into the creation of a new sequence of works, with much more time than I would usually be afforded to install an exhibition. All of the Growing Underground staff were great and extremely laid back, as were the other two resident artists Serra Tansel and Naomi Avsec. I am tremendously grateful to Amy Pennington and Olivia O’Brien for envisioning and supporting this precious opportunity.
The work I made was a series of five sculptures installed in one of the long tunnel sections. Each sculptural installation explores in abstract form the meeting point between two characters in a novel that I am writing. The novel is in-process and the sculptures act as a kind of research enabling me with a deeper sense of the qualities of the characters, as well as the environments that they inhabit. Over the course of a weekend in June I took six groups of ten to fifteen people down to see the works which were viewed initially in silence, except for the occasional roaring of the Northern line trains going overhead.
The most unusual art residency caught my eye and I knew it was something special. During the prerequisite site visit, I fell madly, crazily and 100ft deeply in love with the WW2 bunkers in Clapham. I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of three artists by Olivia O’ Brien and Amy Pennington and I spent 10 months inhabiting one of the many meandering tunnels.
It took time to acclimatise to my she-cave and its subterranean location, so I started with a daily meditation of drawing onto a 20ft roll of paper, named Mind Mangle …….a way of accessing my thoughts and processes. Over the months my work built up momentum and it became my second home and my beloved sanctuary.
Using a ‘make do and mend’ ethos, I scavenged discarded detritus from the streets of Clapham above. My subconscious and the effect of the tunnel’s atmosphere and automatism shaped my work and I became something of a hermetic surrealist. A collection of uncanny creatures were created through the exploitation of chance……a kind of archipelago of strange dwellers, resulting in my final installation, Dust Garden: Little Particles of Happiness. (Including my animation Outsider).
Over one weekend, around 170 guests (in groups of 24) took the dusty stairs down to the burrows to immerse themselves in a parallel universe of light and dark, cut off from the world but gently soothed by benign beings and the rumble of the trains overhead.
I cannot thank Growing Underground enough for such a truly unique opportunity – the space, the kindness and the unending support. I particularly enjoyed being disconnected from the world, the space to spread out and make a hell of a mess. This residency has given me renewed ambition and it will undoubtedly be a seminal moment in my practice.