AIR hosted a public symposium to examine art practices that make a commitment to being present in a place or a situation.
Staying gathered perspectives on how artists and curators have stayed, and are staying, in other places; considered the infrastructures and processes of staying within the social, economic, political, built and lived experience of a place; and explored how a long public practice in a place might establish an expanded field of art intervention. Different scales of intention and action were examined through asking how long is 'staying', what are the relationships and conversations involved, what are the potentials and dynamics of the outsider/insider/local, and what happens when you 'leave'?
The symposium took place in a disused betting shop within AIR's exhibition Seven Years in Archway. The speakers were artists Andrea Zimmerman, David Harding, Becky Shaw, and curators Louise Shelley (Showroom Gallery) and Catrin Jeans (Deveron Arts).
Introduction: What Happens When We Stay?
Anna Hart, AIR
"Five years ago six artists and I spent twenty-four hours in Archway in pink tents in a disused hairdressers for the first AIR conference, asking ‘what happens when we stay?' We felt that, after just two years, we had stayed a long time and that a durational commitment had been made that was revealing a particular way of working. Strangely now after seven years it doesn’t feel that we have stayed nearly long enough – maybe that’s because we have realised that staying is not about duration, although time is a component of it, really it is a state of mind.
When we were first here our question ‘what happens when we stay?’ was a framework for our enquiry but gradually as many artists worked in different ways with us we began to see staying as a method and a practice. Our colleague Margot Bannerman in particular helped us articulate what we were doing, and it seemed to involve three simple strategies – paying attention to the everyday, working publicly, and building a critical mass of work in this place which provided the momentum for a sustainable staying. So our staying was not necessarily about the artist needing to stay for a long time but about us establishing an on-going close relationship with a place which allowed artists to be active without an predetermined outcome in mind, for however long they were here.
This former bookies where we are today closed just weeks ago, another conducive collision in Archway – this time with an emphasis on endings as we are leaving Archway to ‘stay’ somewhere else. The Mall outside has been an important place throughout the seven years for many artists and the site of many interventions and it feels important that these conversations today take place here.
This symposium came about as we began to question how our staying here, and our thoughts about what it has meant, related to other stayings elsewhere in different places and at different times. We are really delighted to have five speakers here today who we consider all to be involved in a powerful staying in another place, in different ways, at different scales of duration, intervention, geography. We have asked them to each present a short perspective on what staying is to them to help unpick how relationships and communities are forged, the intrinsic values of working collaboratively with non-artists, and how these approaches – to quote Mouffe – ‘play a decisive role in the construction of new forms of subjectivity’ and how staying might catalyse new forms of publicness.
We believe that the broad field of social practice around staying is only loosely mapped partly due to the complexities in transporting and reporting it. We hope this afternoon is an opportunity to consider the expanded role for the fine artist to affect alternate ways of living and being in an anxious world. We are curious about how things begin, what and how is the invitation, who gives permission, who are the allies, what is the extent of place – where are the edges, and what it means to leave? In the audience we have a fantastic range of artists and curators, including students and colleagues from Central Saint Martins, Sheffield Hallam, Birkbeck and elsewhere. We hope that everyone will enjoy making a contribution to the discussion."
The Town is the Venue
Catrin Jeans, Deveron Arts
Deveron Arts have been working in Huntly, a rural Scottish Market town, for eighteen years. Operating without an art building, all the works are developed and shown in the town and its surrounds. Catrin explains their 50/50 approach which brings both local and international artists to work in the town.
Staying When Things Go Wrong
Becky Shaw, Artist
Becky Shaw questioned the value of a particular approach to staying by talking about her experiences of moving things around. Becky talks about her work ‘Transfer’ which attempted to move the entire art collection of the Manchester Royal Infirmary Hospital to the nearby Castlefield Gallery. She explores the role of failure and contingency, and the expectations that lie behind invitations to artists to work in place.
Memories and Vagaries
David Harding was the ‘Town Artist’ of Glenrothes, a new town in Fife, for ten years between 1968-78. The position was created by the town’s chief architect and planner. It afforded significant opportunities for intervening directly into the planning and consultation processes, and for making work informed by his intimate relationship and knowledge with the town.
Andrea Luka Zimmerman
Andrea Zimmerman is an artist filmmaker and cultural activist. Andrea discusses her new film 'Estate', the latest work to come from her eight years of practice within the on-going dialogue of the Hackney estate where she has lived for eighteen years. She describes the film as not having been about a community but from it.