Friday, 20 November 2015

Joint Islington Mill and IMAA Crit 10th November 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.