Home-rearing (enSHRINE), 2023
Commissioned by The NewBridge Project, Newcastle, UK
A month long residency with Lady Kitt and their children Finn and Ada during April and 6 month follow up programme of policy and organisational development. For more detailed info click HERE
Reflective essay about the project by Elisabeth Del Prete, Senior Curator at UP Projects and Associate Lecturer at Royal College of Art, who has worked as the project mentor BELOW
Many of the activities, techniques, games and questions Kitt is using during “Home-Rearing” have been developed as part of their:
Ongoing project enSHRINE (started in 2019) which develops and facilitates creative tools for organizational development and cultural policy change. There is more info about the enSHRINE project here: enSHRINE | ladykitt (lladykitt.com)
Culture Declares Emergency pledge (you can read the pledge here: Environmental Responsibility | ladykitt (lladykitt.com)
Reflections on power and empowerment: Can collaborative practice lead to long term change?
As part of “Home-Rearing” Elisabeth Del Prete, Senior Curator at UP Projects and Associate Lecturer at Royal College of Art, has worked as the project mentor. As part of this role Elisabeth had regular meetings with Kitt, Finn and Ada and has written the text below about the project. Later in the year, after Kitt has worked with NewBridge staff on organisational development relating to the project, Elisabeth will write a follow up text. Commissioning these texts is part of a series of ongoing experiments, trying different approaches to documenting, reflecting on and engaging in critical dialogue around socially engaged ways of working.
"In her most recent book, “The Purpose of Power”, civil rights activist and community organiser, Alicia Garza talks about the difference between power and empowerment when working with communities. While, according to Garza, empowerment is what happens when communities come together and voice a shared feeling, condition or concern, power is about helping people change the conditions that impact their lives.
Can socially engaged practice aspire to go beyond community empowerment?
How can practicing collaboration, change the way we relate to ourselves and others?
In “Home-rearing”, a month-long residency taking place in April 2023 at The NewBridge Project, Lady Kitt and their children, Finn and Ada are taking up space. In doing so they are sharing the visibility, the collaborative values and their sense of belonging to the space with others: local community groups, the general public, the team working at the institution, and freelance collaborators. Everyone who engages with them participates in the process of collaborative rearing, whether by building a giant household shrine, or by contributing to the development of a series of systems, processes, and policies to support the development of The NewBridge Project. The residency is part of Kitt's ongoing project “enSHRINE”, researching and developing socially engaged art methodologies for organisational development. As such the month-long residency is supported by a programme of follow-up policy development sessions with staff, facilitated by Kitt and planned throughout 2023.
By exploring what makes a home a home, “Home-rearing” shifts our attention towards what Kitt calls “creative intimacies”, asking what it means to set, embed and share values through relationship building. As part of the residency, communities are encouraged to not only take part in the creative activities that are programmed by Kitt and their children in the gallery, but also to be open to practice the cooperative culture that defines their relationships.
“Space here is a little more mine than it usually is”, they said during one of our online conversations which took place at the end of a long day of activities during the second week of the residency. This had to do with Kitt and their children holding each other to the standards they set for one another at home. “These are not always high standards - there is permission to be naughty and grumpy here in a way I usually wouldn’t let myself when I’m working!”. The online space I was welcomed to when speaking with Kitt, Finn and Ada involved open conversations. While these were planned in advance and served multiple purposes (for example, I could learn more about the project in real time, whereas Kitt could reflect on key insights from each day), they did not have a defined structure. Everyone involved could jump in at any time with no real pressure to contribute to the exchange. This is, for example, how I got to meet Ludo and Ghost, two clay sculptures made by Finn during the residency, inspired by TV characters from the 1980s and reflecting an important part of what it means for Finn to relax and feel comfortable at home.
What struck me during these exchanges was Kitt’s intention to not only take up space and make visible all the complexities involved in being a parent, a disabled artist, and an activist, but also their aim to share what making decisions in collaboration with others, and in this case their family, meant for them.
Taking up space
According to disabled community organizer and disability policy advocate Sandy Oh, “taking up space for a disabled person is always revolutionary”. During our conversations Kitt told me about their journey towards self-advocacy, towards claiming space not only for artistic self-expression but also for their role in helping organisations become more accessible. “The other side of providing good access is that it’s time consuming. What boundaries do people need to build around themselves?”. Taking up space can also come at the cost of exhaustion. As emerged during one of the workshops they facilitated with a group of disabled artists during the residency, it is often disabled artists that take on the role to help organisations become more accessible. In response to the question “what does access mean to you?” participants felt it was often their responsibility as individual artists or collectives, as opposed to that of the institutions they enter, to provide for and respond to access needs. Similarly, a workshop held with members of the team at The NewBridge Project explored ideas around boundary setting. Does the responsibility for access fall on individual members of staff? How can the institution embed access provisions in ways that safeguard staff wellbeing? Helping organisations become more accessible can often lead artists to providing unpaid consultancy work for organisations, and staff members to extend themselves to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. Where taking up space becomes a form of activism, it also extends to advocating for individuals with shared lived experiences, helping them better understand their roles in relation to institutions and set boundaries accordingly.
Sharing collaborative values
All residency activities invite participants to engage with the collaborative values of the project. As part of these, visitors are encouraged to drop-in and contribute to the making of Balance shrine. This is a space for people to share and exchange writing and drawing on small A6 votive offering cards then peg them to a wall hung shrine (made from recycled plastic bag flower garlands). In another shrine (the Building Shrine), visitors are able to freely use the materials in the space following a loose set of instructions printed on the wall of the gallery which clearly states “you do not need to ask permission”.
Permission, consent and renegotiation play crucial roles in Kitt’s collaborative practice.
During one of our online conversations, Kitt reflected on notions of consent, asking: “what do we consent to when we consent to be part of a collaborative piece of art?”. The question, along with the questions that followed, revealed the layers of complexity and the level of care required in the type of collaborative work that is committed to be held accountable and acknowledge hierarchies. For example, the collaboration between Kitt, Finn and Ada led to a conversation in which they collectively decided that the children’s names would be associated with the project. Prior to arriving at that decision, they talked about what it means for a name to be linked with a project, reflecting on the levels of accountability and the responsibilities that all collaborators have as a result of it.
Ensuring there are multiple points of contact where people can renegotiate their role is key, according to Kitt. “How much can we assume about what people want and don’t want when we enter collaborative relationships?”. Renegotiation is part of the work as it ensures people feel they have agency over their roles at each step of the way. As part of the residency, Kitt also worked closely with Child Care and Access Support Workers on the project, who provided safety and support to Finn and Ada during the public sessions. This offered both Kitt and their children the opportunity to renegotiate their roles more freely, moving from parent to artist, and from co-creator to participant.
During another activity in the gallery, a young person asked Kitt to share with him their residency fee, starting a conversation that led to the development of a table also exhibited in the space and titled Are you being paid to be here today?. On the table Kitt outlines their daily fee of £280 (for a total of £6440 for the entire project) extending the invitation to staff, visitors and freelance artists to do the same. Anecdotally, I was informed that this fee includes Finn and Ada’s day rates (£50 per day each), set by the children themselves and with an agreement that Kitt would pay them half of this upon receipt of the total fee, and the other half would go into savings for them when they are older. The table and the conversations around payment stem from Kitt’s ongoing interest in defining “Project Exchange Rates”, a term that explores what people are putting into socially engaged projects such as “Home-rearing”, and what they hope to enjoy in return. What currencies are accepted and expected as part of the process (i.e. money, happiness, skills) and who evaluates the work?
A collaborative practice starts with embedding cooperative values of decision making, sharing power and constantly self-reflecting on questions around privilege, hierarchy, visibility and consent. With “Home-rearing” Kitt, Finn and Ada have undoubtedly created a platform for community empowerment, enabling groups to come together and voice their positions over specific topics of interest. Is it possible to go as far as to argue that sharing collaborative values and giving groups the opportunity to test them in the gallery space may have a longer lasting effect?
How can the principles underpinning Lady Kitt, Finn and Ada’s collaborative practice help establish paradigms that are much needed among communities and society at large?
“The Purpose of Power: How to Build Movements for the 21st Century” written by Alicia Garza, Penguin: New York, p. 57
“Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the Twentieth Century”, edited by Alice Wong, Vintage Books: New York, p. 115
Elisabeth Del Prete (she/her) is a London-based Italian/British collaborator. As Senior Curator (Learning and Live Research) at UP Projects, Elisabeth oversees the public programmes and leads on Constellations, the annual development programme for artists and curators realised in partnership with Flat Time House, Liverpool Biennial and John Hansard Gallery.
At UP Projects she also leads on the R&D of a public art commission launching in 2024 and exploring regenerative environmental practices. At Royal College of Art, Elisabeth is Associate Lecturer on the MA Curating Contemporary Art. In 2019 she was co-curator of the 12th Kaunas Biennial in Lithuania, and between 2010-16 Elisabeth worked as Post-War and Contemporary Art Specialist at Christie’s and Wright auction houses, in London and New York respectively.
Elisabeth has spoken at a number of UK-based art organisations including Plus Tate, CCA Brighton, Barbican, Chisenhale Studios, and SPACE Studios. She holds a BA in History of Art from Goldsmiths (2008), an MA in Curating from RCA (2017) and participated in the Clore Leadership Pulse programme in 2021.