We Are Seven: Artist Commune Project

The We Are Seven Commune Project was a month long artist residency for Seven New York based artists. A collaboration between Grizedale Arts and The Wordsworth Trust, the artists were based in the scenic tourist hub of The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, Lake District, UK. Artists were Ian Cooper, Daphne Fitzpatrick, Rachel Foullon, K8 Hardy, Adam Putnam, Dana Sherwood, Allison Smith.

Location: Edinburgh

The Embassy is a non-profit making artist-run gallery. The gallery holds a yearly programme of exhibitions and events, hosts video and performance nights at Edinburgh College of Art, and exhibits at off site projects including Zoo Art Fair.
Current Embassy Committee:
Angela Beck
John A. Harrington
Norman James Hogg
Daniella Watson

Monday, July 10, 2006

Extract from interview I conducted with K8

K8 Hardy works with video, film, print and performance and is a founding member of the publishing collective LTTR, a queer feminist art journal, lesbians to the rescue.

(image Wynne Greenwood and K8 Hardy, New Report Morning Edition performance documentation)

Daniella - That's interesting you mean its like a reenactment of a commune...?

K8 - A commune, this is not our real lives...in the Lake District...we are all individual artists in New York City. so this is far from our real lives.

Daniella - Did you have any ideals or sense of wanting to construct your own sense of community as a group rather than being here as individuals. And if so were these ideals challenged by living in Grasmere, with the tourists etc? Was this a distraction?

K8 - Yeah, I think the tourism is a distraction, I think it being a tourist town is a distraction, I mean tourism is a distraction in its essence, right? Or an attraction. But we are tourists as well, its a little unsettling to see the buses swoop in and loads of tourists get of and swarm the town like little ants, as far as creating a commune, being productive, I don't know...

Daniella - well how about the idea of being a group of people here...?

K8 - Well I feel like we kind of are like the tourists, but living here perhaps a bit more jaded about tourism in general, and you know I think we are quite complicit, we are an attraction, we give talks...

Extract from interview with Adam Putnam

(image below blue corner as featured in Adams solo exhibition at Sandroni Rey)

Adam's practice is based in performance, photography and video. Recently taking interior architecture as his main point of departure, he creates intimate inanimate spaces which begin to perform through light variations within itself. These become literally charged with its own presence, the stage becomes actor.

Daniella - could you outline some of the preconceptions of the Lake District you may have had before arriving?

Adam - I didn't quite know what to expect actually, I think on the one hand it's a lot less...I think I was expecting something a lot more rugged but by the same token there is a feeling of history that I wasn't expecting just in terms of the houses, stone walls and such.

Daniella - And how about other elements like Grasmere village itself?

Adam - I saw images of the little hamlet and I was a little surprised by the actual town, I didn't wasn't prepared for so many hotels or...I didn't realise that this was such a tourist destination, I felt like the whole area was a tourist destination and I was expecting something more like a small town, not endless hotels and souvenir shops on the other hand, it's quite nice to see all the different kinds of people. I guess I'm surprised at how many people come here, it wasn't something that I had heard of before the residency.

Extract from interview with Rachel and Ian, talking here about particular aspects of the residency

Daniella - To what extent you've felt observed and scrutinized throughout your residency at The Wordsworth Trust?

Rachel - Well my first impulse is to say i don't feel observed at all, I don't feel like anyone's being looking in on us. I have had the paranoid big brother thought, are there cameras in here? Just as a passing thought, because maybe I feel under scrutinized or something, for one thing I feel like this the commune thing is kind a funny because we've really been treated as this group. That's very unusual for artists because usually its so about an individual, your work and what you have to say about it. To me its strange and funny and unexpected that we are at week three and a half of this month long residency and nobody at Grizedale knows anything about what I do in New York, as an individual. Or my own multi-part practice. You are I have talked about the curatorial stuff but I've really not shown my stuff to anyone. In a way I think thats nice, its like a break from it but at the same time its starnge to think that I'll leave here having met a bunch of people and nobody really knows what I do or what I think about on my own.

I have subsidized that for the purpose of the group. Its very unusual.

Ian - I definitely think its unusual I mean in most cases artists are put in groups, specifically in exhibition or publication context. But its always that its the work thats in the group, and the individuals are sort of secondary. The personalities are secondary, theoretically its that the work has been grouped. And in some senses the way Allison curated, bringing the six of us, there is a commonality to our work. But whether or not light has been shed on that? The thing I think particularly about the Wordsworth Trust...its between the Grizedale Arts residency and The Wordsworth Trust and one of those groups is an arts group and the other is a literature and poetry group, primarily. We happen to be living at the latter, almost every individual who has asked us about our work, and their ideas about art are not that contemporary, lets say.

(image of Ian's work below titled Killed Revealed courtesy the artist)

To a certain extent I do feel scrutinized, not as an artist and not as an individual, but as an American put up here, payed for etc. And recently we've had some conversations with people and there is a little bit of latent hostility or...but we've come quite close with the poets in residence which has been amazing and enriching. I do feel impotent here though, I am not in my world, I don't have all the things I need to make things. In a crazy sense its about when is the next meal and how to deal with that

Rachel - I think this project, while its a great experiment, I think it does acknowledge the fiction of trying to observe artists at work because like any experiment behaviour changes when you are being observed. I also just think many elements I feel are superficial, how can we be observed as individuals interacting if Grizedale or anybody knows us as individuals. Theres never been any sort of introduction to us as individual agents.

(image of Rachel's work titled Pioneer Place Car Souvenir)

Daniella - So do you feel some sense of being watched almost like a reality TV show? To feel exploited in the fact that the project wasn't clarified (by whoever) to you, or even the idea what it might actually be about? And it was really left up to you to decide, do you feel...

Rachel - I think that no matter what it was an amazing experience to give a group of artists money and time and a place to just be. That is the most amazing gift, to me in my mind that is what the grant is for, and everything else is the framework you have to give it structure for whoever is approving the funding.

Ian - There are residency programmes in the States where a group of artists have a living situation, each artist gets a studio and they are expected to work in the studio somehow. So that was one thing that wasn't really thought out...there was more of a scramble of where are these people actually going to sleep at night, so I think just by that alone the focus became the living situation. This panic of this house is just not that inhabitable. When people decided that the Sykeside cottage was just fine, and I found myself cleaning this filthy toilet covered in urine and hair and shit, I was like what am I doing? What am I doing here right now? Certainly living and cleaning are things that might happen in life but the idea that we had to ad hoc a living situation and then make it ready for us...setting you aside, nobody was really interested in putting forward the effort.

Daniella - How do you feel the (twice weekly) meetings have gone. Do you feel that thats been the main output, the time when you can be listened to. Do you think that going with a presentation has been the best approach?

Ian - If it was just us- the Seven- tonight I would be doing a different presentation. Because everyone has a semblance of what I do, I have things I want to talk about but bringing them up at the rotunda thing, out of the fucking thin air, would be so random and require so much explanation. Everyone had different opinions about this and I guess I didn't push it enough. But now that its nearing the end I really do feel strongly that we should have all had a night or several nights where we gave straight up slide lectures on our work for whoever came in the same way that the poets do.

Rachel - I feel that everyone would've been able to facilitate our experience better if they understood what we do. I'll be talking to somebody from Grizedale and all of a sudden I realize they don't know-what it is I do- Without that conext it is just superficial, or floating on the surface.

Ian - It didn't help our credentials amongst the Wordsworth Trust or Grizedale People that out of sight, out of mind, I they don't actually see the work that we have accomplished, and some of the people in this group are pretty fucking accomplished. If you just see us as people just going 'Oh shit theres no bed to sleep in' then all of a sudden we are just some random civilians.

Rachel - The other day Richard Stanton from The Wordsworth Trust said "A bunch of pathetic artists from New York in conversation" and he has no idea what we do. There's all this insanely successful stuff that nobody knows about us.

Ian - Arguably nobody should need to know, but that is not the way the world works.

Daniella - Do you think it would've been better to find your own structure, maybe having more regular meetings with slide talks?

Rachel - Some of the artists in the group didn't feel like they needed that. I feel that If I were to structure the programme for another group of artists I would route it in a core lecture series on the artists work and then the twice weekly things are incredibly valuable, to open something up to other people, writers, administrative staff. Returning the artists voice to the archive.

Daniella - Do you think there has been a misunderstanding about the Commune Project, and the kinds of activities that you would be engaged in?

Ian - We are engaged in so many things here

Rachel - I think we do lots of things that the people who live here never do. We go all over to seek out car boot sales. We are meeting so many people that live here, and we are so excited about this other cultures junk.

Ian - to come here for some downtime from our busy schedules is amazing but when you get the feeling that there is some nebulous hidden agenda or structure that somehow we are not fulfilling, we start to feel guilty, and we want to just use this time as planned or as not planned.


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