"Reaching in Motion"
Lady Kitt Aug 2021
Writing and illustration commission for Art Licks Magazine issue 26 "Radical Gestures"
Art Licks 2021 commission
“Reaching in Motion” by Lady Kitt
“mess making as social glue” is how I often describe the way I work- it is hugely influenced by, and built around, my experience of being a North Easterner. I’m a person who makes art through, for and about collaboration. There are a plethora of opinions about what natty phrase best describes this sort of art making (socially engaged, participatory practice, community art). I’m kinda ambivalent about all of them. Categorizing the process makes it seem static. The stuff I love about collaborative making is the “creative intimacies” built through shared acts of vulnerability, support, empathy, invention and wild daftness. For me, much of the value of working in this way is in the continual movement, the endlessly shifting approaches and understandings we learn to make space for.
In 2018 I had a really great, very memorable chat with the wonderful Phil Douglas. Phil is executive producer of Curious Arts (North East based LGBTQ+ Arts Festival). One of the (many) inspiring things he said that day was “People are not hard to reach, they are easy to ignore”. Since then, this phrase has formed and informed much of my work and thinking. I like it’s directness. Taking a funding-speak staple of the “hard to reach audience”, turning it inside out to expose it’s inherent flaws. Sometimes I come to the phrase and it feels like a searing indictment of endemic divisiveness. Other times it’s brimming with possibilities, hope and mischievous clarity. Either way it’s always an inspiration and an invitation to do more useful, more flexible thinking, making and being.
When I first met Holly (Willats) as part of her residency with The NewBridge Project, she asked some questions about art in the North East which I found dead useful in considering the nuances of creative culture here. In answering some of these I quoted Phil. The phrase itself communicates something about how we sometimes feel in the North East, but it’s more than that. It suggests approaches that seem like they’re grown here: tactics to bureaucratic art-talk which use that mischievous clarity to scrummage around in and delicately dismantle this grossly paternalistic othering. It suggests a deep-rooted welcoming attitude led by curiosity, openness and care.
When Holly and Rebecca (Huggan) invited me to contribute to Art Licks, it was towards the end of a year during which I’ve been making “social art with social distance”. I’ve worked alongside a group of people, all based in the North East, on a project called “Art Confined”. During this time, we have shared our experiences of, and ideas about, what it is to be ignored. And we’ve challenged ourselves to undo structures and behaviours which make reaching out seem hard.
The following pages contain self-portraits of some of these people, accompanied by quotes from them in response to Phil’s phrase. The two paper cut images, illustrating the phrase, have been made by me for the Radical Gestures issue of Art Licks.
Kev Howard: This (Phil’s) statement made all sorts of thought’s and personal situations flood my brain like a steam train whistle blaring and the clatter of the sound as it thunders down the tracks. This statement is so thought provoking, reflecting societal observation and personal experience. The one thing which keeps coming to me is how art is actually fundamental to the voices of the marginalised being heard. Art in all its forms have been instrumental in bringing the voices of the marginalised to the fore. People from minority groups have been ignored for too long, have been oppressed for too long, but I feel there is a great change happening. There is a rise in activism, whether from people with disabilities, BAME communities, LGBTQ+ communities, people in poverty, the working classes, and so many more marginalised groups. Our voices are rising and the way the arts is used is key to getting our messages heard. Art can transmit messages of hope, of camaraderie, show a different experience away from the norm of individual peoples experiences, can open up discussion and dialogues between groups of people to help build bridges between them. I think the list is endless, but the defining thing for me, is that art transcends. It gives a voice to be heard to those who feel they have no voice. Their messages can be heard, can be listened to, can be published, shown and absorbed by everyone who cares to read, listen, look and engage in the message. Art is giving us visibility, it is giving people a voice and the power to get their message heard and listened to. Art is the agitator, the educator and common denominator to bring cohesion to those who have been ignored for too long.
Deborah Nash: I've been thinking a lot about art and inclusivity since I read this, and it reminded me of something I encountered recently. I think there are many ways that certain demographics in society are ignored, feel ignored and go unseen in the arts. One of these ways is to do with money.
I filled in an online survey about engaging with art workshops and events. One of the questions was "How much would you pay for this event/workshop?" There were two ticky boxes, one for £10+ and the other for £20+, no sliding scale or even recognition that someone without an income, might want to take part, but not have the money to do so. I was very angry about the assumption and the lack of awareness. I did manage to voice my complaint at the end of the questionnaire, but it left me feeling bitter.
Money often precludes people from doing many things and being an artist I think is one of them. I see people making art, but to have a voice and been seen in the art world takes money, as well as talent, and the most marginalised people are often without financial resources. Of course heavy investment in the arts in general would be wonderful, but with more focus on dedicated spaces/galleries, where people without 'means' could create and regularly display their work, would be a start.
Sofia Fox Barton: A community is judged by its colour, the streets on which they live are judged by the post code and the economical value that deems their worth. There is most definitely a hostility towards people whose first language isn't English, to those who aren't white. To people who wear any cultural clothing. In turn these communities live in fear and expect the worse resulting in isolation and segregation. Communal creation of artwork helps build relationships, friendships and experiences with others. Often it helps people come out of their own bubble when they connect with others through visual stimulus. The act of creating is familiar, like writing with our hands, and I find it to be a universal language between peoples.
Edwin Li: You can be a part of so many communities but you have to insert yourself into those communities or at least make the effort. From the point of view of an individual looking for home or people, there’s that. It’s impossible to ignore government cuts to art funding in this conversation. In that way, it is deliberate and targeted ignore-ance. But it is more than ignorance, it is wilful negligence and oppression.
Sarah Li: As a person working in the industry, I want people to know that they are allowed to view art, have opinions on it and make art and be an artist. We need to open up those conversations and share those resources. Many people still believe that art is not for them- it isn’t made for them. To some extent they might not be wrong as institutions, organisations and individuals in the industry need to unpack the elitist history of art and the lasting effects and barriers it has created. We need more funding in the arts so that it is less competitive and so that it can be a more stable career for those that don’t have loads of money from the get go. I often see art and music as the same but the key difference for me is how people think of the two separate industries. Not many people think that music as a subject ‘isn’t for them’. Sure, they might believe that certain types of music are not for them, mostly types of music that are more rooted in elitism, but art as a whole subject is often seen that way despite the fact that there are lots of artists who are making work in lots of different ways and for lots of different audiences. I think a lot of that has to do with the attitudes, histories and inaccessibility of the visual arts and the language we use to talk about it.