Practising Place: Conversations about art and place

In 2013 In Certain Places hosted its first Practising Place event at Liverpool Hope University: a conversation between artist Rebecca Chesney and Dr Rosemary Shirley, Senior Lecturer in Art History at Manchester School of Art. The evening opened with presentations from the speakers about their own research and practice, looking at Chesney’s artwork ‘I’m Blue, You’re Yellow’ ­– two acres of meadow in Everton Park (see photos below) – and Shirley’s research into our relationship with and the history of litter in the countryside. A discussion between the speakers followed, which examined popular perceptions of the landscape and considered the ways that artists engage with, and reveal, the political, cultural and economic processes through which it is produced.

Rebecca Chesney - I'm blue you're yellow 2Left: I’m Blue, You’re Yellow in 2013
Right: I’m Blue, You’re Yellow in 2015

The structure of the evening allowed both speakers to share elements of their own practice before exploring the themes in their own and each other’s work and finding their common ground and areas for discussion.

There were nine more Practising Places events across the north of England, each considering a different aspect of the relationship between art practice and place, such as perceptions of the rural, language, nostalgia, typography, architecture, virtual places and urban noise. All the events featured an artist and humanities researcher who shared a common area of interest. Bringing together artists concerned with infrastructure, systems, the body, recollections, memory, the everyday, boundaries, cultures, history and politics with researchers from backgrounds including sociology, geography, art history, literature, design, history and archaeology generated a rich source of ideas and dialogue.

The artists and researchers were later commissioned to write essays that continued these discussions and looked further at the work and topics they have in common. These essays were published on online arts magazine, The Double Negative, and will be presented together in an e-journal later this year.

The artists and researchers formed solid partnerships that lasted beyond the events, leading to continued dialogue and collaborations. In Certain Places is currently working on a Practising Place publication featuring contributions from each of the ten pairs in different written and visual forms.

PP composite BTop: Rebecca Chesney, David Jacques, Victoria Lucas, William Titley, Joanne Lee
Bottom: Magda Stawarska-Beavan, Amelia Crouch, Jenny Steele, Emily Speed, Ian Nesbitt & Ruth Levene

All the Practising Place events were filmed and can be watched on the In Certain Places website:

  • Working the Land: Art, Landscape and the Everton Meadows (Rebecca Chesney in Conversation with Rosemary Shirley), October 2013, Liverpool
    Working the Land drew on examples from Chesney’s project ‘I’m Blue, You’re Yellow’ and wider practice to examine popular perceptions of the landscape, and discussed the ways in which artists engage with, and reveal, the political, cultural and economic processes through which it is produced. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Liminal Landscapes: Assembly, Enclosure and the West Lancs coast (David Jacques in conversation with Les Roberts), March 2014, Preston
    Liminal Landscapes premiered Jacques’ film, The Dionysians of West Lancs. Described by the artist as ‘a phantom ride’ along the West Lancashire coast, the film weaves together historical topography, rave culture and Greek mythology to examine the age-old tension between enclosure and freedom of assembly, which continues to shape this landscape. These themes were explored by Roberts, who presented his research into sites of liminality, including the treacherous terrains of the Dee Estuary and Morecambe Bay. Through conversation, Jacques and Roberts discussed the power struggles, both past and present, that define such places, and outlined a political reading of liminal landscapes. Watch the films of the event here.
  • After Castle Market: Salvaging the Urban Obsolete (Victoria Lucas in conversation with Emma Fraser), November 2014, Sheffield
    After Castle Market explored issues of urban renewal, gentrification, memory and value, through a focus on Lucas’s residency within Sheffield’s Castle Market – an indoor market and example of mid-twentieth century Brutalist architecture, which was closed in 2013 in advance of its imminent demolition and replacement by the city’s new Moor Market. Presenting her short film, After (2013), Lucas discussed her experience of working within what was once a vibrant market hall, as well as her interest in the wider theme of ‘failed utopia’. Additional perspectives were also provided by Emma Fraser, who discussed her research into the experience and consumption of urban ruins. Through conversation, Lucas and Fraser discussed the relationship between urban progress and obsolescence, and examined how creative practices can help to ‘salvage’ the urban obsolete. Watch the films of the event here.

  • In-Between Places: Class, Creativity and Contemporary Art (William Titley in conversation with Steve Millington), April 2015, Manchester
    In Between Places examined ideas of creativity, place and social class, through a focus on Titley and Millington’s individual research. In particular, the speakers discussed the value of vernacular forms of creativity, such as festivals, local crafts or domestic Christmas light displays, which often exist outside of mainstream definitions of art and culture but play important roles within the everyday life and traditions of a place. The event also explored how professional artists can help to uncover and communicate the value of such practices, by inhabiting the spaces between different places and communities, and acting as conduits for discourse and exchange. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Forms of Inscription: Surfaces, Patterns and the Typography of Place (Joanne Lee in conversation with Paul Wilson), February 2016, Sheffield
    Forms of Inscription examined the relationship between communication, meaning and landscape, through reference to Lee and Wilson’s individual research. Foregrounding the, often overlooked, ephemera of everyday places, such as ‘chewing gum constellations’, fly tipping sites and the typography of working men’s clubs, Lee and Wilson presented their own methods of ‘close looking’, and discussed the value of interdisciplinary approaches to engaging with a place. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Urban Vibrations: Selfhood, Sound and the City (Magda Stawarska-Beavan in conversation with James Mansell), May 2016, Nottingham
    Urban Vibrations examined the politics of urban sound through reference to Stawarska-Beavan’s and Mansell’s individual research. Discussing issues of memory, anxiety and personal/public space, the speakers examined urban noise as a site of contestation. Sharing their respective approaches to researching, collecting and editing city sounds, they discussed the complex spatial narratives revealed by urban soundscapes, and explored how art and historical methods can encourage different forms of ‘critical listening’. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Vocal Landscapes: Bodies, Language and Place (Amelia Crouch in conversation with David Cooper), June 2016, Manchester
    Vocal Landscapes examined the role of language within experiences of place. Referencing locations such as the Lake District and the West Yorkshire estate of Whitley Beaumont, Cooper and Crouch discussed how forms of language are used to govern, frame and re-inscribe particular places. Drawing on their individual research, the speakers also considered how place writing and visual art can expose the inherent tensions and hidden voices of landscapes, by attending to the intertextuality of place. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Nostalgic Landscapes: Responses to the British Seaside (Jenny Steele in conversation with David Jarratt), July 2016, Preston
    Nostalgic Landscapes explored perceptions of the British seaside, through examples of Steele and Jarratt’s academic and creative research. Referencing traditional seaside locations, such as the North West resorts of Morecambe and Blackpool, Steele and Jarratt discussed the significance of such places within the creation of individual and collective identities, and the importance of reminiscence to their enduring appeal. In particular, they examined the role of nostalgia within cultural constructions of seaside places, and discussed how this may be considered to be a productive rather than passive phenomenon. Watch the films of the event here.
  • (Dis)ordering the City: Buildings, Bodies and Urban Space (Emily Speed in conversation with Duncan Light), October 2016, Liverpool
    (Dis)ordering the City focused on the making and reshaping of urban space. In particular, it explored the relationship between official urban planning processes and the subversion of city spaces by the people who use them. Drawing upon their own creative and academic research, Speed and Light examined the ways in which urban spaces are performed, and how certain practices – such as walking, urban exploration and the creation of ‘desire lines’ – might be viewed as tactics for ‘disordering’ the city. Watch the films of the event here.
  • Inhabiting the Landscape: Art, Archaeology and the Performance of Place (Ian Nesbitt and Ruth Levene in conversation with Bob Johnston), November, 2016, Newcastle upon Tyne
    Inhabiting the Landscape explored ways of understanding the landscape through an immersive engagement with it. Drawing on their respective practices of art and landscape archaeology, the speakers discussed the idea of landscape as the product of human actions, with a focus on traditions of land use, boundaries and authoritative and unofficial forms of mapping. In particular, they examined how activities such as walking and oral history can generate alternative perspectives of landscape that challenge established narratives and reveal the shifting meanings of a place. Watch the films of the event here.
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