Spaces for connecting

“The focus of creative placemaking is to bring under-represented voices from the community into conversations about the future of the area in which they live, through active creative projects. To bring together people, communities, groups, and organisations, public, private and third sector agencies to develop common ground on community-led planning and enterprise.” Matt Baker of The Stove Network.

“My practice as an artist is about establishing projects alongside, and as part of, communities – creating work that has its foundations in a sense of place.” Katie Anderson

Katie Anderson recently showed a major representation of her community art at Gracefield Art Gallery in Dumfries. The show was called “Settling” and the title coveys well the unassuming attitude present in the various works, which have a way of slowly impressing you by their openness to the needs of others, rather than proclaiming the artist herself.

As a fellow community artist I was particularly interested in seeing how Katie approaches different situations with a view to understanding them through the process of activity and art. Sometimes she teaches youngsters printmaking, sometimes she engages in place-specific tarot, sometimes she just walks around observing ordinary folk…but in all of these there is the desire to listen and hear what is going on in people’s lives. The work is unusual in its genuine lack of artist ego – something we all aspire to with socially engaged art, but then often fall short of achieving! Katie’s work has a purity of expression which declares that many voices are present in the words carefully chosen or the designs carefully drawn and painted. Her choice of colours never jars with this communal subject matter.

Hand painted panels used by Katie in her work – pithy, poetic and poignant. Another of her ongoing projects is Dumfries Women’s Signwriting Squad, which is a growing movement of local power signwriters.

This sign stands out to me as a powerful statement of an obvious but forgotten truth – it reminds us that collective action is vital if we are to believe in a better future for ourselves and those who will follow…

Cutting away to the Lochside bonfire night earlier this month – I was again able to be part of something bigger and more exciting than the usual Saturday evening indoors. There was an energy and expectation in the crowd as we waited for the big firework display…this energy which expects something big to happen is the very impulse that will help the human race survive against all the odds of misdirected power and folly. And the fireworks did not disappoint (see some great pics here: )

On this very ground Katie has also been involved with community work. Back in 2019 she was part of the Tattiefields project in Lochside which brought outdoor artworks to the new homeowners in NW Lochside:

“We’ve had a series of 24 community events connected with the project in Lochside, including workshops in local schools, events and activities in local community centres and as part of other community events like the Lochside Gala and on-site art workshops – these have been attended by more than 300 people over the 18 months.”

This is very similar to the work we have been doing since August 2021 with the WWDN project. The long-term methods of community engagement and listening to the folk who live there was as crucial then as it has been for our work now.

Katie has spent a lot of time working with young people around themes of local landscapes near Barrow-in-Furness, with lots of outcomes such as drawing, printmaking onto tee-shirts, marching through town with fabric banners, and tarot cards…

Pupils working on the Voices of the Future project, Barrow-in-Furness, 2022

The importance of hands and hearing – a personal Tarot session (originally from community outreach Barrow Tarot, 2019)

Katie playing Barrow Tarot with me

The Tarot was an illuminating experiene – after explaining the rules and the decks of cards, Katie invited me to pick one beautifully designed card from each deck containing Culture, Community, Industry and Environment suits. Mine fell with The Teacher as one card with Knowledge.Exchange and Inspiring.Learning as sub-categories. There is plenty here to think about in terms of my future plans with community work next year. I have been and still am a teacher, but have learnt a great deal this past year about exchange of knowledge and inspiration coming from unlikely places. Learning through fun experiences is often the best way to discover something profound.

A selection of the cards in the deck – humour is another dimension of Katie’s work

Small Gestures, 2022 – sculptural hand-held speakers with looped audio soundtrack.

Katie says the sculpture “references the everyday: intimate moments, articulations and evocations made between one another.” This again shows a power within the apparant frailty of small plaster hands holding barely audible speakers. You have to engage by putting your head near to hear it. And the sounds are ordinary things like a rag-and-bone man on the street, human voices or disconnected piano pieces. You have to attend to the sounds or you miss them.

In order to listen, must there be sound?

Two approaches to sound installation – projection (speaking) and reception (listening)

Sound Horn, 2017 – a sound/sculpture installation for the outside brought indoors for this show

This piece was originally sited at Sanctuary Lab in Galloway Forest park, then at Pollock House, Glasgow and then Brodie Castle, Forres. Designed for the outdoors, the piece has a more intimate feel indoors and probably demands more from the spectator here as we have less natural context to escape into. If distance lends enchantment (outdoors), then proximity (indoors) lends intensity of experience as the sounds bounce off the walls around us.

The Call, 2021 – an interactive outdoor audio/sculptural experience brought indoors for this show

Again, the viewer must imagine what the soundtrack of voices and song would sound like through the listening cones. I was able to experience the installation outside at the Mill on the Fleet in 2021, and the sense of listening to sounds in a new, quieter way was something that stayed with me. Community involvement comes from the inclusion of many voices in the sung and spoken soundtrack, which blend beautifully in places and pull apart in others. This brings a somewhat ethereal work back down to earth, where we can all recognise our own human quirks.

Elsewhere is everywhere…

To conclude this personal snapshot of a multilayered exhibition of diverse works I would like to focus on the Elsewhere project which was curated by Katie through the Stove Network during the Covid pandemic. I had a small part to play in this project as one of the contributing artists – this was before I even moved up to Dumfries – and so I can share opersonal experience of being included in virtual placemaking. From down in Essex I was included in a community of creative and friendly folk before I really knew any of them, and Katie was the catalyst for this rather amazing happening. She managed to create (through The Stove’s network) a new space for connecting which existed in people’s hearts rather than any set location. The internet was a tool for establishing something very tangible, and my family and I were very grateful for this. And I think this exemplifies the nature of Katie’s work – it is about using any means necessary to make creative connections between people and the world of material things. Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.