Opportunities for both institutions and artists to collaboratively reframe themselves happen rarely; structures and practices shift into patterns over time, manifesting into certain forms, truths, that are difficult to shift. Collaboration is a point of departure and discovery, offering challenges that if embraced impact on the way that ideas and processes can take form in future work.
Throughout October and November 2015, artist and curator Trevor Pitt undertook a residency at Spacex that explored collaboration, focusing on its use as a strategy for artists making ‘things’, and ‘making things happen’ and shifting the focus from discussion to active engagement. Pitt’s practice builds platforms, his previous work ‘Cannon Hill Art School’ manifested a project that offered 72 Birmingham residents the opportunity to study a subject that is for many increasingly out of reach.
These works are underpinned by the deep sense of fascination Pitt holds for the approaches and iconography developed in Black Mountain College by Josef and Anni Albers, and the transformational nature of study through experimental practice. Albers danced through Pitt’s residency, his electric engagement projected through a short video alongside an installation of platforms for collaboration and furniture developed from Albers’ designs by Pitt and made by Malcolm Robertson, Spacex’s Technical Manager. The gallery space was transformed through these acts into a place in which Pitt tested ideas through educational collaboration. School children came to curate exhibitions alongside PGCE students, FE Art and Design students discovered a DIY aesthetic in BYOB (Bring Your Own Beamer) then shared and tested the results through an event they held out of college hours.
Central to Pitt’s concerns at Spacex was the creation of Preston Street Union, in which Pitt invited fifteen artists local to Exeter to join him throughout his residency, to form an association through which they would actively collaborate. Preston Street Union was informed by a series of guest speakers, all artists who Pitt has previously collaborated with. Juneau Projects, Claire Thornton and Emily Warner each visited Spacex to introduce their work through presentations and direct activity. I fleetingly manifested the collaborative projects that focus my practice via Skype. This element of the residency was given its own visual identity by designer Keith Dodds, another of Pitt’s long- term collaborators.
At the core of Preston Street Union are ongoing direct questions for both the participants and Spacex that focus on the relationships they can build together and how these then can be sustained for future work. Within the spaces in which artists are brought together there are undeniable opportunities to collectively support diverse individual practices, through the fostering of critical engagement with the contexts and connections that form innovative work. Artists, spaces and projects are strengthened through critical engagement, gaining the confidence to see beyond the context of their immediate surroundings for a greater sense of connectivity. Associates’ schemes set up by Castlefield Gallery, Eastside Projects, G39, S1 Artspace and Spike Island continue to offer artists unique opportunities to expand and develop their creative (artistic, curatorial and written) networks through the offer of direct participation and exchange. Each associates’ scheme shares the dynamically ambitious local/international ecologies which they continue to forge, engage and inform through cross regional residences, callouts and projects.
Preston Street Union have been selected for mentoring by Visual Arts South West and continue discussions as to how they can evolve and work together as collaborators and peers. As these dialogues are undertaken there is an opportunity for reciprocity. The strength of Spacex has been its commitment to supporting risk in artists’ practices. This is a critical moment for artists both regionally and nationally to support Spacex as it engages with new aims to pioneer itself as a resilient organisational structure in the visual arts, and to work with projects that focus the institution beyond the gallery into embedded engagement with local populations. Spacex’s support has been galvanised through Pitt’s residency, which has focused how the institution can maintain a reputation for excellence at a national level, while increasing its participation and engagement with regional audiences. Situations born out of flux offer opportunities for imagination and re-creation. As projects shift they call in turn for us to respond, to work with them and see them anew.
Text by Cathy Wade
First published by this is tomorrow, March 2016