My new work feels a lot like old work. From 2008-1015, much of my work was around High Streets and empty shops. I was never comfortable with the term ‘meanwhile’ to describe this work, because that always suggested that the arts were there until the grown ups came back to the spaces and my analysis was, they wouldn’t. Well, one month in to 2021 and more chain stores have collapsed while independents have shown their resilience and usefulness in a crisis.
At the end of 2020, we announced my project with Appetite in Stoke – The Newcastle Common. I’m Lead Artist. This will look at a number of city centre spaces over a period of time, suggesting and testing new uses, and also demonstrating how a more mixed ecology of use supports other businesses. We announce our first commissioned artist this week.
Another project around empty shops will see me supporting Mooch, on a project for Historic England which connects High Streets in Ramsgate and Ryde. There are a couple of other empty shop projects I’m involved in, too, which should be public soon.
I’m also mentoring Connor Sansby, the founder of Whisky & Beards, as he develops a new publishing project.
Up in Stoke again, I’m leading a year-long programme of learning with B arts, who started out as a bunch of stilt walking, fire breathing feminists and … well, they haven’t really changed much. They’re a brilliant woman-led organisation who run a massive art factory and an intimate community bakery. I’m looking at their history and their future, holding conversations with their current associates and former artists.
That dovetails with a personal project – writing a book about my work over the last 20 years. I’m looking at key projects, common themes, and the tactics I have used. It seems like now is a time for reflection, and Prof Martin Parker, Lorna Dallas Conte, and Bernadette Russell have added their perspectives to the book.
I’ve also been writing for a historical project in Ramsgate, with a long piece about Sir William Curtis and his connections to the slave trade, and a series of short architectural portraits.
Last year, I also joined forces with James Gough, who I worked with on Pop Up Culture Southampton, to launch a wider conversation about where we were all going – Rewild The Arts. We’re planning a big online open space in the next month.
I’ve also been working with Jon Adams and Flow Observatorium, on a report into the problems facing neurodivergent people in the arts, which will be published soon. As part of that, with Threshold Studios we commissioned artists to respond to the report’s findings. We’ll be sharing that work soon.
In development, I have a bunch of seaside projects, building on last year’s Back & Fill – hopefully there will be announcements about those soon. I’m excited – I’ve always lived on the coast, and seaside culture is something I love.
Down here in Margate, Turner Contemporary has given seaside culture a twist. I was poet-in-residence for their webcam last year. Well, they’re holding an Open Exhibition this year. A number of community groups are involved in the selection process, including one I sit on. I’m also working with Joseph Young and Kay Aplin, on a commission which pairs me with a Hong Kong ceramic artist to respond to the collections at the Powell Cotton Museum in Birchington.
To give me some extra space, I’ve added Beth to my studio team, to help with book-keeping and admin. All in all, 2021 looks good so far – but, as somebody who travels a lot for work and who hasn’t left the Isle of Thanet in a year, I hope we’re able to return to something like normal life by the end of 2021.