Hepworth Creative Labs – a final word

‘It is clear that there are a lot of barriers to clarity on both sides of the gallery walls. The process of this project, which went quickly down the route of concrete solutions and problem solving ideas – many of which have a lot of merit – has brought us back to the key point of communication; the starting of dialogues which can lead to better understanding from all parties. This has indeed thrown new light upon the ideas we came up with very quickly, giving them context and scope for further investigation.’ – Paul Miller

hepworth from Paul Miller on Vimeo.

4 June marked the final day of the Hepworth Creative Labs projects in which I have been taking part. Leeds Creative Labs is part of a longer-term programme of engagement and collaboration between the University of Leeds and the local creative and cultural industries of the North, aiming to…

  • Spark collaborations between academics and creative innovators to find new and inventive ways to showcase academic research and achieve broad public impact.
  • Increase our understanding of how the arts and technology might inform and support research relevant to contemporary society.
  • Create new works, new ideas and new methodologies through collaboration and creative prototypes.’

The Hepworth Edition contained three teams of four, a mix of artists technologists, academics and students. The challenge was to ‘Remix the Gallery’, by exploring new ways in which visitors might interact with collections and the Hepworth as an institution.  The following questions came under the brief:

  • What role can technology play in making the institution itself more porous?
  • How can collaborations between art and technology create spaces and interfaces that challenge both artistic and digital practice?
  • Is there a connectedness and intimacy that can be explored through openness and architectures of participation?

I was in a group with, John Stell, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing at the University of Leeds; Becs Andrews, an established performance designer and artist, based at the University of York; and Paul Miller, a visual artist, based at East St Arts’ Patrick Studios.

The experience of addressing the brief given to us in the labs was by no means a linear process. As people who are used to having to produce creative work to deadlines, we started by trying to formulate a concrete and tangible response to the brief early on. Our idea was to take aspects of the gallery outside of the gallery and deposit them around wakefield town centre, with the aim of shedding the connotations of the gallery experience and enabling members of the public to interact with artworks who might not otherwise do so (see prezi below for more information on this).

When we presented out ideas at the coffee-shop session halfway through the the project, it became apparent to use that perhaps we had been too goal-orientated in the first half of the task. We decided to use the rest of the time we had available to interrogate the relationship between art object, curator and visitor in as open a way as we could.  The work that we had done before would not but wasted, but rather enhanced by this deeper exploration of the constituent parts of a gallery.

After some discussion, we decided that the best way to conduct this interrogation was to interview two key groups of people. The first of these was gallery invigilators: these are people who work habitually in the gallery space and spend more time with some of the artworks than the artists who create them. They oversee the way that different people interact with the gallery, and have plenty of time to reflect on what the gallery is and could be. the second group of people that we decided to interview was the general public of Wakefield. The aim of this was to get an impression of how the gallery was perceived as a new presence in a town with established culture and customs.

The recorded interviews were vessels that contained our previous research which was channeled into the questions. This research was brought alive and given depth by a range of colourful and varying perspectives, each with its own insight.

The final day contained an introduction by Imran Ali, presentations from the three groups, and a keynote by Leila Johnston of the fantastic magazine, Hack Circus. For out slot, rather than giving a talk, we decided to let the interviews ‘speak’ for us. We had the audience members listen to wireless headphones, which had a choice of two channels that could be switched between. We broadcast an invigilator interview on channel 1, and a selection of public interviews on channel 2. The idea was that this process would allow the experience of artwork and the perspectives of gallery invigilator, visitor and member of the public  to coalesce and hopefully form interesting food for thought.

The afternoon turned out a great success. Presentations from the other two groups were engaging and interesting. It seemed that each group touched on the same key set of issues, but approached the brief in a different way. This was reflected in the panel discussion at the end, which I think threw up some key points for consideration by the Hepworth team.

The process of our thinking can be seen more clearly in the prezi below. The video and statement at the top of the post can be seen as a summary of our thinking, and the interviews are embedded at the bottom of the post.

Being involved in the process was a fantastic opportunity and my thanks go to my group members, the team at the Hepworth Wakefield, Imran Ali, and Creative and Cultural Industries exchange at the University of Leeds.