Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MashingUp: Art+Labour, 9th November

Tue 9th Nov 2010
Art+Labour is a public conversation exploring the conditions and experiences of creative labour in the cultural industries – working conditions, pay, working hours; freedom and autonomy, pleasure and obligation; insecurity and uncertainty; social reproduction, networking and isolation – and artists’ organising within it – unions, artists’ associations, or self-organised studio/exhibition spaces.
What diverse forms of employment do artists undertake? Who are their employees? How secure and how flexible are these forms of employment? What are the conditions of employment and how are these changing? What can we say of artists’ autonomy in relation to contemporary labour practices? How do cultural workers effectively organise around labour issues? What would it mean for artists to withdraw their labour in defence of conditions in one’s primary or secondary employment? With successive governments’ emphasis on arts’ social function, how does communality express itself in competitive Creative Industries? What is industrial about the Creative Industries; where do ‘Cultural’ producers sit within the policy frame of the ‘Creative’ Industries? How do we as cultural producers recognise our own positions and dependency on/within/alongside the public sector? With the entrepreneurial restructuring of the arts in Scotland and in the face of selective public sector cuts throughout the UK, how constructive are artists’ isolated appeals for a state of exception? What is so unique about artists in the social factory?
These are some of the questions to be addressed during this public conversation. The discussion is open to anyone – cultural workers, artists, students, interns, precarious and self-organised labour affiliated to academia – concerned with issues of art, labour and economics. The event will begin with a series of short position statements from invited speakers followed by discussion among panelists and audience.
Panelists include:
Angela McRobbie
Professor of Communications, Dept. of Media & Communications, Goldsmiths
Scottish Artists Union
The representative voice for artists in Scotland
Graham Jeffery
Reader: Music and Performance, The School of Creative and Cultural Industries, UWS
Katarzyna Kosmala
Reader, Centre for Contemporary European Studies, UWS
Gesa Helms
Researcher & artist
Brett Bloom
Member of Chicago-based art collective Temporary Services who recently produced ‘Art Work : A national conversation about art, labour, and economics’
Owen Logan
Researcher, School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen
Facilitated by Gordon Asher
Effective Learning Tutor, UWS Centre for Academic & Professional Development
Event is free but ticketed, tickets available from CCA Box Office:
CCA, 350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3JD
tel : +44 (0)141 352 4900
“MASHING UP” : Art+Labour is organised by Leigh French, co-editor of Variant, and Sophie Hope, member of Making A Living, in co-operation with Graham Jeffery of The School of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of the West of Scotland, and supported by CCA, Glasgow.
A Public Lecture Series presented by UWS and CCA
This ongoing lecture series stimulates critical, transdisciplinary research communities to discuss advanced knowledge and to build networks of excellence among producer communities.
‘Mashing up’ [definition]
“a mashup is a web page or application that combines data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service. The term mashup implies easy, fast integration…to produce results that were not the original reason for producing the raw source data” (Wikipedia, 2009).
The lecture series
exhibits the values of new media culture to explore synergies between institutions, ideas and disciplines. This aspiration originates with the UWS and CCA partnership, which extends to the specific areas of inquiry that we pursue. It advances the core mission of each organization to initiate applied, international research opportunities through experimental, local dialogue to foster collaborative, bottom-up, sustainable practices of development.
We want attendees to blog, photograph, film, tweet and do all they can to share the content of these talks to democratize access to knowledge.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ambient Ayr

I'm delighted to say that I'm going to be performing a new piece of music as part of Ayr Alternative Arts Day at Ayr Old Town Hall on Saturday 25th September. Not completely sure what it will consist of yet, although I have determined that virtually all of the source audio material will come from the walk between the railway station and the UWS campus. More details about the line-up for the day, curated by smart collaborator Chris Dooks, can be found on the Ayrtime website, from where you can also download some lovely podcasts for your listening pleasure. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spaces of encounter: artists, conversations and meaning-making

Presentation from the North East Scotland visual arts research doctoral summer school at RGU in Aberdeen.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Cave: Chamber Music

This is an old project, but as the links have now disappeared from the BBC SSO blog, and I quite like this bit of writing and filmmaking, and I'm probably going to talk about it next Tuesday up in Aberdeen, I thought I would post it here.

Watch The Cave on Vimeo

There are a few places in the world which lodge themselves so powerfully in the psyche that it is impossible ever to be quite the same again when one has visited them. Durness in Sutherland, on the furthermost tip of the Scottish mainland, is one such place. 

In July 2007, members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra spent a week in residence in Durness. The project had two parts. The first was a public concert of electroacoustic music for trumpet and composed sound which took place in the chamber of Smoo Cave as part of the Highland 2007 festival. The second was a six day residency, a collaborative project between four musicians from the orchestra and three visual artists who live in and around Durness. 

The residency was framed in part as 'professional development' for the participants; as a space to reflect and consider what could be achieved through small-scale collaboration between visual artists and musicians. It was intended to enable us to consider how we could extend our ways of thinking and making, through encounters beyond the usual orthodoxies of our artistic practice. Through the six intensive working days that we spent together, the other character that loomed large over us in the rugged and ever-changing landscape of Durness was Smoo Cave. The cave became the crucible for the work that we made, a physical and imaginary theatre which reflected and refracted sounds, images and ideas. 

Collaboration is never easy, particularly when a new group of people are meeting for the first time. Each participant was an accomplished artist in their own right. The four musicians, drawn from different sections of the orchestra, accustomed to the constant demands of a precisely arranged touring and performing schedule, had to adjust to the relatively open brief of a project in which the work had to be generated without notated scores or pre-determined outcomes. The work of the three visual artists has a powerful connection with the landscape, their experience forged out of the struggle to survive as an independent practitioner in the beautiful, but at times harsh, cultural ecology of north-west Scotland. 

So the material circumstances of the participants, and the places and spaces in which they were accustomed to making their work, was very different, as well as the media through which their creative practice was usually expressed. Entering into dialogue, finding was of communicating with people from outside one's usual community of practice can be stimulating, but also tough and challenging. Musicians who are used to the collective experience of the orchestra, with its precise demarcation of roles and parts, have to draw on slightly different skills when faced with the freedom and responsibility of making work through dialogue with others. Visual artists who are used to an intense and solitary exploration of their own experience may also have to adjust their expectations of a creative process. And for some there can be a nervousness about straying across the boundaries of one's finely honed competence into a territory where 'technique' is less about polished delivery and more rough, raw and experimental. But being a 'musician' or an 'artist' is not a fixed or immutable category. The boundaries between different kinds of artistic practice can be challenged and crossed. 

What followed was an extraordinary experience. Five days of intense discussion, occasional conflicts and arguments, walks in the windswept landscape, climbing the hills above Loch Eriboll and tracking along the rocky shoreline; an exploration of the ever-changing terrain in and around Durness which assaulted all the senses. We documented this process through drawing, photography, listening and writing, gathering objects and leaving marks, recording and recalling sound, installing a makeshift exhibition of 'finds' in the Village Hall, and sometimes immersing our bodies in the sea and the burns. We played, sang and made sound with all sorts of instruments - stones, wood and metal found on the shoreline, clay bowls and pipes - and the instruments we had brought with us. Like the weather, the atmosphere of the project changed from hour to hour. We sat up into the midnight blue midsummer night eating and drinking and talking. We visited homes and studios, looking at and listening to each others' work.

The process was complex and interwoven, with some uncertain and difficult moments - but when else was a process of art-making not like that? The generosity and patience of each person involved in the process ensured that we managed to hold together in spite of the risks and challenges of working through a collectively conceived structure. The process raised some important issues, about the importance of keeping a place for solitude and individual reflection even when one is being asked to 'collaborate creatively'; about the extent to which creativity is ever just simply a matter of developing individual 'talent' or 'expression'; about the roles that artists and musicians perform within institutions, sometimes out of economic necessity; and the ways in which the conventions and cultures of these institutions may enable or inhibit creativity. 

Several other themes came to the surface: how sound changes spaces and how spaces change sound - in other words, the acoustic ecology of places. Words, stories and metaphors emerged: powerful archetypal images of the cave as a womb, or a mind, or a giant ear chamber - as a kind of 'underworld' of the mind, an inner world which made a different kind of performative art-making possible. The psychologist Carl Jung describes the archetype of the cave as the primordial 'interior' space - a dark place which might trigger self-reflection and exploration of those dark recesses of the mind that fuel both creativity and uncertainty. In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung refers to the story of the young men who slept in the cave in the 18th Sura of the Koran: "the cave is a place of rebirth, that secret cavity in which one is shut up in order to be incubated and renewed...Anyone who gets into...the cave which everyone has in himself, or into the darkness that lies behind consciousness, will find himself involved in an - at first - unconscious process of transformation..."

What resulted was not a quest to arrive at a single unified piece, but rather like the ways in which the salt water of the incoming sea meets the freshwater of the burn flowing out of the cave, a dissolving of clear boundaries between different kinds of artistic practice took place. 

What transpired in the end was an evening performance for an audience of ourselves, the rocks and the birds. What was produced was akin to some of the life processes of the cave itself - with its overlapping cycles of seasons, of death and birth. Iris Wallace, who usually works with enamels from her studio at the nearby Balnakiel Craft Village, had spent several nights labouring over a text that spoke of the cave as a place of refuge, of fear and of safety, of food, of danger, of battles, of the past and the futures - as somehow 'full of time' and time-less at the same time. Her spoken and sung text provided a narrative backbone for the event and transformed moments into a kind of music theatre. Lotte Glob had made clay bowls and pipes to be blown, hit, filled with water and sung through, and these invented instruments combined improvised composition with the flute, violin, double bass and clarinet. 

Sound always changes and mutates in relation to the spaces and places that it occupies and the cave made a kind of 'unrehearsed music' possible, supplying sounds of its own from its non-human inhabitants, and a constantly shifting store of acoustic conditions, as the performers moved around the space. Ishbel Macdonald, a painter and printmaker, had become fascinated with the flow of the burn through the cave from the waterfall at its back, and embarked on an ambitious plan to make prints from the flow of the water over large sheets of heavy paper. The water washed over the pigment and became a form of 'automatic printing', capturing the marks left by the fast-flowing stream leaping over its stony bed. 

Simon Butterworth, as well as providing energetic bass clarinet textures, at times reminscent of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, took time away from music to capture specific moments in the performance in still photographs. A series of impromptu duets, trios and quartets emerged from the movement of players around the space, with Ewan Robertson's flute and Barbara Downie's violin, supplemented by sticks, stones and singing, weaving lines around the bedrock provided by Iain Crawford's double bass. Barbara and Ishbel moved from their instruments inside the cave to make sound with the rusting winch on the shore, and, along with Jennifer Martin, the BBC SSO's Learning Manager, took turns under headphones and behind the microphone to record what was happening. 

As the light slowly faded we alternated between filming, singing, playing, recording, mark-making or sometimes just standing still, absorbing what was happening. 

At high tide, after what seemed like hours of playing, after the moment when the sun had dropped away out of sight, one by one we lit candles in floating holders made by Lotte and let the stream carry them out of the cave and into the sea. Stone, water, air and fire combined in a ritual ending. And we quietly made our way out of the cave and back up the cliffside. 

The film we have made is a distillation of fragments of this process. It is intended to capture something of the quality of experience created by the event - visual and auditory, drawing on sonic and visual elements from the work generated within the residency. At the heart of the process was the cave, which as it did for the hundreds of generations it has outlived before us, became a kind of living laboratory for our experiment. All we did in that single week was to make some briefly audible and visible marks, and as surely as light gives way to the dark, sound to silence, the cave returned to its previous state. 

The learning that came from the project is hard to write about, partly because, like music and the visual arts, it was about exploring ideas that are not easily expressed in words, and partly because it was different for everyone. We look forward to hearing what you make of it. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Practice/Research:debates and dialogues

Here's the slideshow from the presentation that Graham gave at the MashingUp:Practice+Research event at CCA Glasgow on 19th May.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mashing Up: Practice + Research

Afternoon symposium on 19th May at CCA Glasgow, with many UWS staff and students, plus artist Chris Dooks, TV director/producer turned academic Nic Jeune (Bath Spa University), Jackie Sands, and Graeme Harper (University of Bangor).

Summary of what we're talking about below, with full details here
At UWS, we pride ourselves on the vocational and practitioner-led focus of our curriculum. Many of our academic staff have spent years working as cultural producers, artists and entrepreneurs outside of the university sector, and bring their knowledge of practice in the arts and cultural industries to bear on their teaching and research. At the same time, universities strive to build meaningful relationships between their research and teaching activites and wider communities, in order to justify their position as ‘places of learning’ and to maximise the social, cultural and economic ‘impact’ of academic work.

As the learning landscape becomes more convergent, with collaborations of all kinds characterising modern higher education research and teaching, it is important to consider the implications of these forms of academic practice. In this symposium we bring together practitioner-academics, artists, and researchers to consider such questions.

Knowledge-based communities often seem to divide themselves into distinct tribes of either theory or practice. But whether explicitly articulated or tacit, theory is always informed by forms of practice, and practice is always informed by theory. Within the disciplines that make up the creative and cultural industries, practice-based research has become increasingly prominent, but the place of such work within higher education can be contested, because it communicates knowledge in ways that are not necessarily written traditionally or ‘theoretically’ but expressed otherwise, for example through the production of artefacts in visual art, design, performance, music or moving image. At the same time, higher education must develop critical awareness and theoretical and analytical capabilities, to produce more competent and skilled practitioners and researchers.

Creativity, invention and discovery depend upon challenging disciplinary boundaries, playing with orthodoxies, and making new connections. Creativity may also involve leaps into the unknown or experimental and unorthodox approaches. However, funding and policy imperatives often mean that researchers are under pressure to justify the’ impact’ of their work in economic and practical terms; and artists involved in research, particularly in higher education, are expected to account for their methods and approaches in externally verifiable ‘research’ terms. So terminological confusion abounds.

What can researchers learn from artistic methods?  Practitioners and theorists may have more common methodologies than they think; the media theorist and the journalist often utilize similar methods of inquiry.  Artists and scientists conduct controlled experiments which depend on deep expertise, specialised knowledge, highly skilled technical facility, and intuition. Can cultural and artistic research reveal common ground between theory and practice? And in this context, how does theory help to illuminate practice?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Archiving some films

Thought it might be worth rounding up where on the web you can view some films with bits and pieces of sound/music by Graham. Here they are, in no particular order.

The Cave (with members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra), with an explanatory blog here.

The Seafront (dir. Anton Califano)

Azan: a call to prayer (dir. Heena Bukhari)

For All the Tea in England (dir. Kerry McLeod)

Journeys Across My City: Buenos Aires 2

Journeys Across My City: Buenos Aires 1 (wrong aspect ratio!) 

New commissions for film music gratefully received!

Friday, March 19, 2010

a colour change

I'm informed by one of my Polish colleagues that the previous colour scheme of this blog was too close to the nationalist insignia of Poland - so she couldn't read it without feeling uncomfortable. It went red around 18 months ago, mainly because I was seeing so much red through my anger about the economic situation - so it was supposed to be a vaguely socialist kind of thing. However I've changed it now. It doesn't mean I'm any more optimistic or less angry about inequality - in fact, I'm not, although I do think that the recession could have been much much worse than it has - the UK economy has been kept afloat by public spending -  although that's no consolation for all the people put out of work or out of their homes by the fallout from market excess. 

Anyway, we're back to blue. But that in no way should be taken as any kind of prefiguration of a potential Tory government. Here's Cameron making a bit of a fool of himself in front of some wise and sceptical students at Lewisham College, trying to "do an Obama"; but failing to connect with his audience and instead dribbling cliches in what, to my ears, comes across as patronising tones:

And a reminder, below,  of what Tory economic policy looks like in action: a weirdly schizoid combination: encouragement of laissez-faire market economics and then panic authoritarian intervention, with devastating consequences. Just listen to the smug tones of Michael Howard towards the end of the first report, and bear in mind that Cameron served a political apprenticeship of sorts as a 'special advisor' to chancellor Norman Lamont throughout the sterling crisis of '92. (OK, I'm not suggesting that the neoliberals have really been out of power for the last 13 years either, but the Tory proposal - do nothing except viciously cut public spending - would be a total disaster). And the trauma from the disastrous experiment of the ERM mixed with global free market currency runs deep in Tory DNA and probably accounts for a good chunk of the hostility to the  European project, along with a dose of old-fashioned jingoism. It's back to that strange, multi-headed Hydra of authoritarianism/moral conservatism/nationalism and libertarian free market thinking that fractures right-wing parties everywhere. But as I've written before, I think Dave, in common with lots of boys shaped by boarding school,  has a secret fetish for austerity and authority

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Hospital Art

Here's a piece from the Public Art+Research Scotland website about the two projects at the new Stobhill and Victoria hospitals, for people who might be interested in following some of the process of commissioning and installation of the works.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Here's a quick presentation about collaboration - from macro to micro - for the MA Creative Media Practice students at UWS.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I promised an update on events in the New Year, and here it is, all the way into February.

Most of these are connected more with our work in our full time employed state, rather than anything freelance or independent, but Jackie and I thought they could well be of some interest to the readers of this blog.

So here they are, in roughly chronological order:

At UWS, we’re launching Ayrtime, on February 19th. This is a unique and elclectic series of events at funky new Bar Libertine in the heart of the town. This is the brainchild of fantastic (now ‘local’) artists Chris Dooks and Eleanor Thom. Ayrtime has an astonishingly interesting lineup, including alt-folk, astronomy and poetry, drones, travelling cinema, and edgy Glaswegian performance writing. Tickets are free courtesy of UWS and this is an important building block in our plan to engage much more thoroughly where we are, as we move towards the opening of our lovely new campus in 2011. If this works, expect more Ayrtime events (and podcasts) into 2011 and beyond.

There are two Arts and Health conferences coming up in Scotland, both of which Jackie has been involved in setting up (and at which she’ll also be speaking). The first is in Aberdeen on 24th February, and it's been organised by Grampian Hospital Arts Trust.

The second is in Glasgow on 23rd March, entitled 'Spaces In Between' which includes an interesting lineup of speakers including both Scottish Ministers for Health and Culture and Juan Bautista Peña and Inés Sanguinetti from Crear vale la pena in Argentina, alongside many others.

There’s also the Creative Choices Festival at the UWS Paisley campus on 9th March, at which the Sector Skills Council Creative and Cultural Skills will be launching their ‘Creative Choices’ careers advice portal in Scotland. Graham will be contributing to the conference and Jackie will be speaking at a workshop in the afternoon. The lineup has something for most tastes, including the launch of UWS' Scottish Video Games Archive, a talk from crime writer Christopher Brookmyre in the evening and a late night acoustic session from some talented UWS musicians in Caffe Luna to round off the day.

In March we begin a series of seminars exploring practice-led research at UWS. Plus some exciting PhD studentship opportunities, lectures, screenings and workshops, and work with CCA and Film City Glasgow. More details to come soon.