Monday, 23 November 2015

End of residency open studios event

Join us on Thursday 3rd December from 6-9pm for a celebration of our summer residency.  Come and chat to us about the residency, see what we've been up to over the last 5 months, see what plans we have for the art academy following this and find out how you can get involved. If you can't make it but want to know more, have a look at our blog.   Drinks/ snacks will be provided and please wear something warm as it gets a bit chilly in there! See the map to the left for how to find us.   We hope to see you there, Islington Mill Art Academy
Poster design by Andrew Beswick, a member of the Art Academy.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Joint Islington Mill and IMAA Crit 10th October 2015

This was the first joint crit between artists at the mill and members of the Art Academy. It was well attended by members of both groups and guests.   The intention was to present in the gallery space, to enable the artists to formally present their work, rather than pass items around a table, or present from a laptop which has tended to happen in more informal settings.

Artists presenting were Steve Hockett based at Islington Mill and Claire Hignett from the Islington Mill Art Academy

Steve Hockett:

Coming after a year of not really making much work but about to begin a 2 month residency, the crit served both as a good way to take stock of where I'm at with my practice but also to open up a whole load of new things to think about as well as some more practical solutions to how I'm approaching my work.

There was a lot of stuff to digest but I think there are five key things that have really stuck:

What is my Practice?

To get the existential bit out of the way first - I think the group found it unclear what I was trying to get at with my work, if it was purely formative or laden with meaning. I think being able to understand and explain this is something which I really need to work on. It was also interesting hearing it described as drawing, which I was trying to move away from but I think I just had a very narrow definition of.

Aesthetic & Process

There has been a tendency to have a finished work and a certain aesthetic to achieve in mind which has perhaps been a bit of a limitation, restricting experimentation and process. I'd like to move towards being more process led and less focused on a final outcome.


We discussed the presentation of my work being somewhere between well finished and raw but neither one or the other. I think this is partly due to lack of consideration with the decisions I made with hanging / framing etc. but also with cost being a factor. One practical solution we discussed was to explore working on something small which could be finished to a high level. 


Working in a shared studio space, not dedicated solely to making art in has made it difficult to view and share my work. Some ideas came up to get around this such as using the gallery space at the mill, or finding other areas where I can create / hang / document and reflect.


As an exercise in confidence it was great to be able to speak to a group about my work in depth and be open to critical feedback. After not really showing any work for a year or so it's easy to lose context and end up in a bit of a bubble. The idea of just putting things out there and being open to failure was really important. You need to fail more and fail better.

Claire Hignett: 

I’ve been on the IMAA warehouse residency since July and have deliberately chosen not to work in my usual way with my usual textile tools, routines and processes, to see whether my tools and processes dictate (and limit) what sort of artist I am. I definitely have an ideas based practice, but with a strong making and process element, so I wanted to explore the purely conceptual, to see whether the description fits me.

I found the crit extremely difficult because I presented in a completely different way and presented work that is part of my journey rather than completed. The crit however was really useful.

Work presented:
I presented 3 pieces based on childhood toys that I was unexpectedly reunited with 20+ years ago, that have been waiting for me to do something with. The first was 3 bottles containing wash water from my childhood dressing up clothes, which just happened to be in pastel colours. The second was a doll, which had been put in a plastic bag to keep it clean while in the loft and a photo of the doll’s face in the plastic bag with the plastic bag danger of suffocation label clearly visible. I presented the doll and the bottles on two plinths made from cardboard boxes quickly wrapped in white paper.

Comments and my response to them after time to reflect:

The plinths: these were not intended to be part of the work, however their very presence and that I had chosen to use them made them part of the work. Although frustrated that the conversation had tuned to the plinths, this was a very important learning point. Did they represent aspiration, was there a point to elevating work on ramshackle DIY plinths to create an interesting tension?

The bottles of washed water: In the first instance I did not explain what these were as I wanted to test what an audience made of them. However I misjudged the title by temporarily calling them “My childhood”. Reactions were to compare them to the work of Pamela Rosenkranz, who bottles Barbie flesh tones and to discuss my “attraction to pastel cleanliness”. I found this really interesting as the colours were random. It was quite a steep learning curve to discuss my work referencing other artists and realising how the random can be seen as a choice and create new references.
The doll and photo: The doll has been stored in the same bag since it went into the loft around 40 years ago so the bag is very dusty but the doll is clean. I was in two minds whether I should even put her on display as I feel I have made no intervention in the making (I am a maker!). Comments ranged from “Creepy”, to having an Alison Wonderland like quality. References were made to Walter Benjamin around overproduction, consumerism and being protected by “the dust of history”.
This is interesting as I am currently reading Walter Benjamin and my textiles are about our desire to cling on to and define ourself by posessions and to attach our memories (histories) to them. The comments about consumerism are also quite apposite, as I am personally interested in this issue and also, having been born in the 1960's I am one of the first generation of British children to have toys made from modern plastics and to have been actively marketed to through television. I can still remember the adverts for some of my toys.

To conclude: The comment was made that it was difficult to access the work without me talking about it, and yet in writing this I realise that all the comments made about the work either relate to my intellectual interests, the way I think and view the world, and/or the themes in my existing textiles. I may not be able to articulate my practice clearly at the moment as it is undergoing a process of transformation in how I make the art, but the crit has helped me realise I am a lot closer than I thought.

Friday, 4 September 2015

FILM SCREENING - Fully Awake: Black Mountain College (1933-1957)

FILM SCREENING - Fully Awake: Black Mountain College (1933-1957)

The Islington Mill Art Academy are hosting a series of documentary film screenings at Regents Trading Estate as part of their 3 month residency there, the first being Fully Awake, a film about the radical art school Black Mountain College.

Hidden in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Black Mountain College (1933–1957) was an influential experiment in education that inspired and shaped twentieth century American art. Created as an experiment of “education in a democracy,” the central idea was that the creative arts and practical responsibilities are equal in importance to the development of the intellect. The emphasis was that learning and living are intimately connected.

FULLY AWAKE (2007) is the only feature-length documentary film exploring the college’s progressive pedagogy and radical approach to arts education. Highly democratic and faculty-owned, the school promoted educational of the whole person: head, heart, and hand. Practical responsibilities and the creative arts were viewed as equally important components to intellectual development. During WWII, Black Mountain College was a haven for refugee European artists such as Josef and Anni Albers who arrived from the Bauhaus in Germany. In the socially conservative 1940s and 50s, the college also became a refuge for the American avant–garde, (Franz Kline, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Robert Creeley, Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, and M.C. Richards). FULLY AWAKE explores how the confluence of this diverse community came together to create a unique educational model.

Monday, 24 August 2015

It's started...Jam! Been collecting berries from an abundant spot in the warehouse yard since the start of my summer residency with the Art Academy to turn into Trading Estate Jam.
Soundtrack: Jean-Claude Vannier - L'Enfant Assasin des Mouches. About a child who kills flies, this track is where the child traps the king fly in a giant pot of jam.

Lisa Risbec


Sunday, 16 August 2015

‘Studio Group’ is a regular Art Academy activity, exploring new possibilities for how, when and where artwork is made, and questioning the traditional role of the artists studio in this process. Temporary group ‘studio’ sessions are sited in unorthodox settings, often in public space, and are followed by a discussion and sharing of the work that each person has made during the time.

Pomona is the edgeland between Manchester, Salford and Trafford. Once "a pleasure gardens with a palace, this land is now occupied by many different species of flora and fauna, and is one of the few open wild green spaces in the city centre." (description taken from

Owned by Peel Holdings, this space is soon to be developed on which is being contested widely by various groups, due to the existence of rare species and the lack of green space within the city centre. There is still time for alternative proposals to be put forward, ones which include affordable housing as well as development of the green space.

My Pomona - was set up to collect artistic responses to the place and the Art Academy will be taking a trip down there to add our responses.

This is going to be a fun session where we wander, explore and make, sharing ideas and tasks to help us to develop our practice.

Meet at Islington Mill at 1pm to walk down with us, or meet there and find us (we'll be there at about 1.30). The site can be accessed from Cornbrook Metrolink station (just walk down the stairs and head left - you can enter through a gap in the railings)

Bring any materials you usually work with, or just bring yourselves! Come prepared for the Manchester weather!

© Image copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Warehouse Residency and July activities

We have hit the ground running on the Warehouse Residency! Week one we built our booths from a selection of abandoned wood and panels we found inthe building.

Then on week two we started to do our own thing, which for me (Claire Hignett) was to paint some symbols onto fine fabric for an installation in the Islington Mill Gallery at the end of the month. It was great to have so much space.

In week three we hosted an introduction to Art Academy Potluck, inviting a lot of new people to come along and see what we do.  This involved lots of interesting discussion, including about the value of an arts degree versus other experiences! Those of us on the residency took people on a tour of the warehouse and explained a little about what we are doing and then we went into the Gallery for a sneak preview of the Flat Pack Art exhibition, which  Michael Holland, talked us through.

Lisa Risbec organised a tour of the Peoples History Museum art archive to look at political art, which was really interesting.

And finally I set up my installation "Secret and Sacred" in the gallery at the Mill. All the Warehouse Residency artists came to my opening night, and then this Thursday we did a crit on it which I found really useful.

We were visited by Kerri Jefferis and Paul Haywood
who got involved in the crit and visited the warehouse, discussing alternative Art Schools and ways to involve and link artists.

All in all its been a pretty successful three weeks!

Friday, 10 July 2015



This week marks the start of the Islington Mill Art Academy 6 month residency at Regents Trading Estate, Salford which coincides with the reinstallation of Maurice Carlins vast work Performance Publishing. Variations of the questions above have recurred during our initial group discussions and will act as our starting point for the residency and direct us over the coming weeks.

The participating artists are Andrew Beswick, Maurice Carlin, Claire Hignett, Rika Jones, Lisa Risbec and Jared Szpakowski.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Open Crit. Friday 28th November 2014.

In our recent open crits, we have been experimenting with how we document the discussion which takes place. One of the ways in which we have been doing this is by inviting the members who have presented work to write something about their particular experience of the crit, if and how they found it useful, and what they intended to do as a result..

"Well I, Jenny, had with me a slightly battered CD (remember those) of P.J Harvey's album "Rid of Me" with that stark and strange cover image of P.J with the bare shoulders and the wild and extraordinary hair, forming a life of its own, outgrowing the confines of the image space, and a scholarly article from an esteemed journal for musicologists of popular music which was about the distinctive efffect of P.J Harvey's voice - its timbre, its ability to effect very profound and sudden change,it's 'breaking of the rules' in many respects.

These were, in the crit, a couple of markers for something that I want to perform as an art piece which is wanting to share something about women and voice in the ways that I might so do it.

What is it that I want to share?- certain connections of sound and sensation which in examples we can trace, connects to but wants to challenge and take to the limit a whole raft of cultural associations and positionings of 'the voice of woman' or indeed 'the voice' ...

Part of this requires me to sing. We talked a lot about this given that I cannot do it... yet I have proscribed for myself on the basis of an interest in doing so and some friendly challenges, that I'l do it as part of the background to a 'performance lecture' on woman's voice'.

By the aberrant laws of serendipity Jackie had a classical soprano woman singer as part of her final show and we talked about the effects of such an unexpected and "interruptive element.

The comments and follow up were very helpful. Claire pointed me towards Thalia Zedek, the lead singer of Come- check them out guys...Morry pointed me to Planning To Rock. These were great references. There is something in those different yet somehow connected references that I do want to follow up. I do have an 'imagination' of the performace talk/lecture with background/interposed sounds of my voice and others. ... this will continue and when I get to make my time it would be good to work this performance out at the Mill"

Jenny Walden

Crit Groups are great for roughing up the surfaces of art practice so that new ways of thinking about it can get a purchase and stick on. I was relying on last Friday’s session to help re-orientate myself after exiting MMU with my shiny new Art Practice, resulting from my MA Textiles studies. Seeing what sticks after a few days’ reflection on the discussions and questions raised have left the following impressions:

There is a connection to explore between my former life as a fancy dress costume maker/pedlar and the new objects shown, notably in the context of urban streets. (1)

The subversive possibilities of wearing costumes in public can be extended through humour, to the experimentation and display of other objects in public. (2)

The recording of the objects can function as the outcome, alongside the objects themselves.

Interrupting shared social space with objects embedded with subversive intention is a political act. This thought opens up possibilities for all manner of politically motivated content: an effective tool!

Many thanks to Jenny, Claire, Àgata and Morry for insightful contributions. I may have recognised a shared quest amongst the 3 presentations, for a deliberate space to be made in which the subversive/raw/unfixed particularities of work might operate. (3)

Jackie Haynes

At the moment I’m focusing on producing small-scale print works in sets of 11 pieces per work (1 each in sizes A0 to A10). Unlike previous works which consisted of 100+ pieces, I’m working with reduced numbers in order to explore working with smaller groups of people to develop a range of structures for shared ownership. The working title is ‘Phantom Demographic Series’ – which is this idea of imagining the audience/public/community that you’re making something for (which brings with it lots of questions/challenges).

To make these works, I’m using analogue print techniques to compress layer upon layer of ‘content-less’ information in the form of ink layers onto the pieces of paper which have been arranged into overlapping, taped together compositions. Each ink layer is documented as a unique record using ‘Filemaker Pro’ business database software.

There were some suggestions at the crit around the possibility to invite people to participate in the print production process as well as the subsequent distribution. This is something that I am considering, but equally I’m aware of how participation can often appear tokenistic and often has pre-set parameters designed by the artist for how it should happen.

Maurice Carlin