Artist Commission – 27/01

Sian Watson ran her second session with the group of young people involved in her commissioned art installation. This week continued with Sian forming an understanding of each member of the group’s practice and interests and how they related to particular artworks. In the first session, most people in the group seemed hesitant to share their ideas, whereas in this session the group seemed to relax quicker. As the session was longer, and felt as though it was more to do with our own thoughts, it flowed a lot more naturally without Sian having to play the role of a teacher figure. Open discussion lead to ideas being shared more openly without as much coaxing from Sian. Although at times the group lost concentration and discussion steered off topic, this contributed to a more open and relaxed atmosphere and made it easier to talk about the topics Sian was interested in.

Sian asked the group to have another look at the artworks across both sites and choose pieces that resonated with us in some way or reminded us of anything personal. She talked through pieces that were particularly significant to her to begin sharing thoughts and experiences. Despite reluctance to talk first, all people in the group shared memories that were linked with artworks in the exhibition. It was interesting to see how people responded to the same artworks and the different feelings evoked through looking at pieces. Sian’s approach meant that we could all make links between works and get an insight into how others responded.

Lauren, a young person at Soft Touch Arts, and I picked the same artwork as a basis for discussion and made similar connections in our response to the work. As Sian’s artistic approach was quite intimate, the responses we gave, relating to personal experiences in childhood and memory, felt deeper and more interesting than a superficial, immediate response to viewing an artwork. Sian’s artistic method encouraged a more thoughtful and considered reaction to artworks than an instant response to the exhibition as a whole.

After sharing deeper connections or responses to particular artworks, the group began thinking about what art from they might use to create a piece within Sian’s Perspex sculptures. For this, Sian gave the group a lot of freedom and will use the pieces as inspiration for how she creates her own work. The loosened structure of this session appeared to get a better response from all the participants, although we will be able to work collaboratively with Sian when creating smaller Perspex cubes and use her expertise as a practising artist for guidance and support.

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Towards the end of the session, Sian asked the young people in the group to start thinking about where they thought the sculptures should be placed. We thought it was important to link the two venues as sites for the GenART exhibition so curated the artworks as visual signposts between the galleries. We discussed where ‘clusters’ of the Perspex sculptures could be placed to guide people as, when talking to visitors at the Soft Touch venue, we recorded that a lot of them had not been aware of the split of artworks across New Walk Gallery. For most of the group, curating artworks was a new experience and offered knowledge and practise in putting together an exhibition. Some members, who had less of an interest in the visual arts, were not as engaged in this part of the session and so were less forward with their ideas. However, Sian tried to engage all members again by using writing rather than discussion to record our ideas. By asking those members who seemed less engaged to write or map out curatorial decisions, she got more feedback and engagement. The inclusion of the group in Sian’s curatorial process accentuated the values of GenART by focussing on the opinions and decisions of young people and allowing us to lead and take charge of those decisions.