Busy Body

Busy Body Shaun James, Cuboid & Cube Awaiting Gloss Installation shot from his exhibition Post: Experiments at Milkwood Gallery

Alicia Miller updates you on a busy month with the Arts Council of Wales' Open Space event and shows at National Museum of Wales, Ffotogallery and Milkwood Gallery.


It’s been a busy month for me buzzing around Wales, but oh so, enjoyable! Lots to look at and lots to think about.

It started with a day spent attending one of the Arts Council Wales’ Open Space events. ACW is revising both its Corporate Plan and its Arts Strategies from 2014 – 2020. The Open Space days were an opportunity for ACW to consult in the most open of ways with the community it nurtures. There was no invite list — it was open for anyone to attend who had the interest and commitment—and there was no agenda except what was set by those who turned upon the day.

The Open Space format is designed in the spirit of true consultation - it asks ‘what do you think?’ rather than ‘what do you think about what I think?’ It focused on the most open ended question, ‘What kind of creative Wales would you like to see by 2020 and how do we get there?’ As you can imagine, conversations were wide and rambling, but there were nuggets of brilliance. Have a look at the comments on sgwrsgelf.wordpress.com.

I came away from the day feeling strongly that supporting growth and independence in artists and arts organisations was critical. I saw so much drive and energy from people who were committed to working in innovative ways to make things happen but sometimes just needed a little boost to help it all come together—mentoring, help writing a grant application, a bit of funding to buy in expertise, bespoke professional development training. When you’re trying to set up artist studios for the first time, having someone who can help you through the planning application can mean the difference between giving up and persevering. Sometimes it’s the small impacts that make all the difference.

I was also in Cardiff two Tuesdays in a row, first for the opening of Tim Davies and Holly Davey’s installations in the National Museum of Wales. Davey installed some very smart art in the stairs of the Contemporary Galleries. She photographed the stairs and then collaged the images kaleidoscopically through the stairwell creating a spatial play on your senses, so that it felt almost as if you were turning. It’s a bit funhouse, a bit op art and very clever!

Then back again the following Tuesday for the launch of Ffotogallery’s ambitious collaboration with WJEC, Lightbox. 
Lightbox is an art and design web resource for GCSE and A level teachers and learners. It offers meaningful and detailed support materials on contemporary visual arts and design practice. It’s focused on where art and design is going, not where it’s been (which is one of the key issues in much art education.) It showcases a range of interesting artists with a refreshing equivalence - so you find Matthew Barney and Ai WeiWei alongside of Keith Bowen and Debbie Smyth. The other area the resource is focused on is increasing teachers’ confidence in evaluating assessment criteria, particularly in newer areas of multi-disciplinary practice and digital media where teachers may have less experience. It means there will more support and critical feedback for students who are pushing the boundaries of practice.

Finally, I stopped in to see Shaun James exhibition at Milkwood Gallery in Cardiff. Shaun is one of Axisweb’s Out and Beyond artists and he is doing really great work since graduating from Cardiff Met. The exhibition, Post: Experiments is curated by Bob Gelsthorpe, a fellow graduate who is part of B I T Studios, an artist-led studio space with a programme of events aimed at graduates. I like Shaun’s work because it is peculiar and awkward—pieces of timber hinged together which move and shift, settling differently each time the work is placed on the floor; the frame of a shelf lined irregularly with hooks and seemingly anchored with a bungee cord. He likes ordinary, utilitarian materials and manages to elevate them to something more than they are without eroding their banality. The tension in his work that makes it interesting is the way the awkwardness balances delicately on elegance, walking a line between the two.

Contributed by Alicia Miller
Alicia is Axisweb Associate in Wales. She is based in Ceredigion and is currently working on a doctorate about the history of SPACE Studios in London.

Alicia Miller's staff profile on Axisweb