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PRESENCE an Art-in-Between Commission update

By Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

We are coming to the end of working on the Art_Inbetween commission and it’s been a fascinating process.  The outcome is a work called PRESENCE which is a set of cards to be used as ‘A divining tool for journeys through the restless territories and blurred boundaries of art in the social or public realm’ the cards are a creative tool to explore and reveal aspects of a project or practice and to provoke discussion and exploration.


PRESENCE is a research led response to some of the questions that arose during the Art_Inbetween Summit held at The Stove Network earlier in 2016. The summit attempted to describe the distinctiveness of an evolving ‘rural’ contemporary arts practice with an emphasis on social/participatory/public art across the UK and our starting point was to try and understand this distinctiveness. What are the differences between rural arts practice and projects in urban settings with similar intentions or processes?


During the research phase, we worked with a number of artists, curators and producers using a word card process to explore core features of practice and context. These conversations were interesting and delved into territories that were slippery and shifting, we felt this area had more to offer to a wider audience. We began to work with the idea that practice was perhaps more important and distinctive than location and so the work began on developing PRESENCE; a method to explore and open up projects and practice that could become a companion on creative journeys, a navigational aid that could help understand and articulate the aims, methods and values of a project or practice. There are 16 CARDS, each exploring a core element of practice. Each card has a number of questions on the reverse. We suggest picking one or more card at regular intervals through a live project (or project development) and letting the questions lead into conversation and discussion.


The Cards

We see the cards as a ‘divining tool’ in the process of making creative work. They cannot be used to navigate the straightest, fastest route through a project or process but provide different positions to view the route from. They are not instructions or a model to build a project around and have no opinions about the best way to conduct a project – each project (and artist) is unique. Their role is to prompt, disrupt habits, to revisit assumptions and reassess progress and to re-excite artists and collaborators about their work and provide a tool for exploring projects and practice.

 We have tried to create a process that will result in a series of overlapping views from different positions (The points of interest in situated or social practice are not stationary and two dimensional, but three dimensional and moving, sometimes through time as well as space) This compound eye allows us to examine the same issues from different positions and so learn different things from each viewpoint.


Open Source Future

PRESENCE is an open source project: all questions, concepts and card designs can be challenged, refuted or replaced. Our version is a starting point from which new sets can be constructed specifically tailored to a project or practice. A website is in the process of being set up that will include all design tools and templates to allow people to easily make new sets and upload their designs for others to use.

Huge thanks to everybody who contributed to the summit and to those who have helped with the development of PRESENCE.

If you are interested in getting a set of the PRESENCE cards – please contact [email protected]

More info about the project can be downloaded here


Art_Inbetween as a Starting Point

Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman were appointed as artists-in-residence to the Art_Inbetween project – they began their engagement with the project at the Art_Inbetween Summit  and are now working with ideas formed at the event…..

‘We’re delighted to have been commissioned to make new work in response to the ideas and themes discussed at the Art_Inbetween Summit held at The Stove 25/26 Feb.

The cross sectorial summit brought together people working in ‘Inbetween’ places – towns, villages and other rural areas, to recognise, re-articulate and explore the distinctiveness of the contemporary rural arts scene and to share experience and knowledge. We went to the summit with the idea of keeping our minds open and listening, but the discussions were such, that it was hard to maintain a watching brief and we ended up getting fully stuck in.

Artist Jo Hodges at Art_Inbetween
Jo Hodges at Art_Inbetween
Robbie Coleman (left) at Art_inbetween
Robbie Coleman (left) at Art_Inbetween

The workshops were open formats for conversations around; art as activism, the potential for creating new structures and ways of working in Inbetween places, strategies, communication and networking in rural contexts, cultural high streets and challenging traditional methods of evaluation. Download the Art_Inbetween Summit Pack


In practice the workshops extended their reach to question the language and concepts that were used as starting points. There was much talk around what constituted ‘the rural’ and what that might mean for contemporary arts practice. Were new narratives / visions needed and what role could artists have in facilitating/creating these? There was a realization that there was a lack of clear definition around these ideas and terms and we’ve been left with an interest in delving deeper; what is it about this context that creates possibilities for new forms of art practice?


Other recurring themes of interest to us were the discussions on democracy and participation and how art may make visible/curate/ engage with civic processes. This fed into the general consensus that art practices and processes can act as active agents in thinking about and creating positive social change. We were also interested in the conversations around working collaboratively using models of co-creation across sectors / disciplines and the need to take risks in order to move into new territories of practice with transformational possibilities.


There was much talk around ideas of developing new models for evaluation of arts projects that were more relevant to the rural context and how evaluation could be built in as a creative element of any project rather than something to be done ‘later’. There was discussion about networks of various sorts and how vital they were in contributing to the resilience of ‘Inbetween’ arts practice.


The second day was for more focused work with partner organisations from The Highlands, Wales and Northumberland. We were led in this by Sam Cassels who moved participants at a hair-raising pace using specific questions and provocations in order to quickly arrive at ideas for projects that had the potential for being developed further.


The summit was buzzing with people, conversations and ideas. It was hugely successful as a forum to share and engage with the issues in contemporary ‘Inbetween’ art practice and attracted delegates with a wide and deep interest in the subjects at hand from a range of contexts across the UK. The structure of ‘less presentations – more open discussion’ allowed for conversations to develop and commonalities to surface and be articulated.


From our point of view, as artists tasked with responding to the reach and vibrancy of these conversations, we are now starting to look for patterns, undercurrents, seams and overlaps. As a shared practice we don’t have a regular recurring methodology, but conduct conversations that evolve over time, gradually finding paths that lead us somewhere/nowhere. Currently we are at the beginning of that process.


Since the summit we have found ourselves looking at our own practice (shared and individual) and have realized that it straddles the conventional rural/urban divide in ways that we had not considered before, an area that we will try and explore and articulate as part of this commission.

We have been left with a palpable feeling of excitement about ways of working outside the urban, centralized setting and the potential for developing this model of integrated working in ‘Inbetween’ places. Our challenge now is navigate a route within this enormously rich and evolving context.’

To contact Jo and Robbie – please leave a comment on this blogpost or email [email protected]


Art and Politics at Art_Inbetween

Following on from last weeks Art_Inbetween summit, and reposted from Sarah Beattie-Smith’s blog, (visit it here to read the full report), some reflections from her attending the first day of Art_Inbetween:

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” “Don’t think of art and politics as separate parts of your life – you can do both”. These were the simple words of Katharine from The Stove in Dumfries that, in a few seconds, managed to make disparate bits of my life make sense. Our conversation took place at a thoroughly inspiring event – Art_Inbetween – at the newly refurbished Stove on Dumfries high street last week. Luckily for me, it was just one of a whole day full of provocative, compelling and exciting conversations with artists, performers, community workers and more.

It was a breath of fresh air to drive over the hills to Dumfries last week, to listen to people from across Scotland and the rest of the UK talk about art as activism, about art in a rural context, the politics of artistic practice and the very real political barriers to cultural creation in this country. Art_Inbetween was described as “a summit on arts practice in rural regions” but brought out discussions much more diverse than the description suggests. A morning of conversations about Dumfries and Galloway and the creative thread that runs through the region was followed by workshops on topics as diverse as the structures in place to support the arts and the problems of a rural/urban definition for how seriously rural-based artists are taken.

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I was really heartened to hear the feedback from the different workshops at the end, all reaching the same conclusions. That capitalism, centralisation and an urban-focused economy are all deeply destructive and that we need greater democracy, participation and equality across the country if we’re to stand any hope of truly supporting the arts in D&G and beyond.

Throughout the day, it became increasingly clear to me that art and “the arts” more generally are not something separate from society. Indeed, to think of art in this way runs the risk of devaluing artistic practice and alienating many of the people who would benefit most from participating in it. If we’re to support the arts, through things like the Scottish Green Party’s Intermittent Work Scheme and protection for arts venues and studios, we must do so with an understanding that artistic endeavour is at the very heart of cultural life in Scotland. We must understand that art and politics are neither separate nor mutually exclusive, but bound up together.”

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