Thursday, 28 February 2019

Set In Sediment - Charlotte Dawson -

Set In Sediment is the culmination of Charlotte Dawson's 6-month Graduate Residency at AirSpace - the endpoint of a period of reflection, research, test and experiment.

The exhibition represents a brand new body of work, focusing on our individual connection with the land, with memory, with journey. A sense of arrival, residence and escape. Notions of rootedness and tenuous existence. An exploration of our nature to collect and store and create and recreate objects as physical tokens of memory and history.

Full exhibition details can be found here


Each year, AirSpace Gallery’s Graduate Residency Programme offers two new graduates a fantastic opportunity to be part of an exciting and innovative artist-led space in Stoke-on-Trent, providing 6 months free studio space, ongoing professional development support, mentoring and guidance in those crucial first months out of higher education, and an end-of-residency solo exhibition. Now into its 7th year, the residency programme is an attempt to tackle and highlight a problem with graduate retention in the city, offering early stage professional development support to artists.


Set in Sediment Documentation
images by Charlotte Dawson

Set in Sediment - Public Preview 22nd March, 2019
images by Daby Obiechefu



Monday, 25 February 2019

Organisational Development: Visit to NN Contemporary Art Northampton

Selina Oakes met up with Emer Grant, Artistic Director, Laura Farrell, Operations Manager, and Freddy Blackman, Gallery Assistant, at NN Contemporary Art Northampton on 22 February 2019.

"We work with artists at all stages of their careers to present an international programme of contemporary art and multi-disciplinary events." - NN Contemporary Art

Number Nine Guildhall Road is an arresting four storey building, poised in the middle of Northampton's Cultural Quarter. It's red-brick exterior houses a Gallery, a Project Space, Artist Studios and an artistic community under the umbrella name of NN Contemporary Art Northampton (NN). As part of AirSpace Gallery's Organisational Development, I visited NN to learn about its development and transition from artist-led to NPO.

This was my first journey to Northampton – located between Rugby and Milton Keynes it's an hour and a half train journey from Stoke-on-Trent. Admittedly, I knew very little about its history or narrative, but I'm quickly informed by the NN team that it's known for its shoemaking and leather industries heritage. In speaking with Emer, Laura and Freddy, I learn that Northampton is not so dissimilar to Stoke-on-Trent – a place which also grabbles with narratives of industrial nostalgia. Like Stoke-on-Trent, Northampton exists in proximity to larger conurbations – notably, its big-city neighbour, London.

We chat and have tea in the Gallery space and, later, upstairs in the Office. Laura talks me through NN's early days as Northampton Arts Collective (NAC), which began back in 2003. The group became more established with a more permanent site at The Fishmarket, given to them on a temporary lease. From 2006-2011, NAC produced a series of contemporary exhibitions and also ran events and a cafe from within the vast Fishmarket site. It also became more structured with the recruitment of John Simpson as General Manager and a curator, Catherine Hemelryk, who later became NN Artistic Director.

When The Fishmarket became earmarked for demolition, NAC was a 'roaming' project for six months before the Borough Council provided them with a new home on Guildhall Road. NAC Limited Company became NN Contemporary Art (a charity and now an NPO) and received a significant amount of funding (£50k) from a now obsolete funding body, WNDC, to renovate the then empty building. I'm told that NN will be moving to another building – provided by the Borough Council – in 2019, but will remain on Guildhall Road. 

Emer stresses the importance of partnerships, collaborations and working together: without strong relationships with local councils, universities and fellow artistic groups, it can be difficult to grow, develop and become a sustainable entity. She also speaks about 'Place-Making' and the value in knowing your surroundings – for example, connecting with craft narratives is important. For Northampton, its shoes, for Stoke-on-Trent, its pottery – both have unique histories which can enable you to tap into other disciplines and support, while maintaining your contemporary focus and artistic integrity.

Early on, we walk and talk through Quickly Moving, NN's biennial Graduate show. NN, too, has large windows which, the team says, has its perks but also its challenges. The light that shines through the ground-floor windows (it's a clear, sunny day) illuminates the graduates' works, making them visible from the street. Some visitors are intrigued and enticed to come inside; others become wary of something which is unfamiliar to them. The hand-stitched wallhangings by Sophie Neville, pitched against a Yves Klein Blue, grab my attention; as do Abbie Schug's immaculate hyper-realist portraits. The show is an invaluable platform for recent graduates from art schools outside of London: the 2019 edition, too, is a poignant compilation of six female artists' works.

Installation view, Quickly Moving, Sophie Neville
Installation view, Quickly Moving, Abbie Schug

We speak about Northampton University, and the close relationship that NN has built with the institution – many of its volunteers are third year students. Volunteers are typically engaged on a 10-week Volunteer Programme, where they provide gallery and social media support. In return, volunteers are provided with a platform to discuss their own practice and also gain access to the Project Space. It's a two-way relationship: Emer describes an upcoming module which she is due to deliver at the university on Digital Cultures – in-kind and as part of the partnership agreement.

NN is conscious of its new commitments to its NPO-status. But Emer's focus as new Artistic Director is less on numbers and more on sustained engagement with a smaller group of visitors. This reflects NN's care and consideration of its audiences, and the long-lasting impact it wishes to make. In maintaining a sustainable, small yet reliable audience, NN has a strong base from which to grow and expand further. Something which Emer hopes to incorporate in the new building is a more visible Project Space, one which the artistic and local community sees as an accessible resource – at present, it is slightly concealed on the third floor.

I ask about Northampton's artistic community and learn that there are multiple artist-led spaces and artist studios in the town – Intersession, The Artist Sanctuary Studios, Burns St Studios to name a few. Northampton also has a dedicated Arts Council to “support and nurture the arts.” There appears to be a strong, supportive artistic network in the area, and NN plans to expand this network further by refreshing its Public Programme and by using the town more as a gallery in the future.

We finish on how to promote the value of an arts organisation – whether it be an artist-led collective, a charity or an NPO. Emer puts it simply: economic regeneration through culture – and this is what councils should be looking to support. We touch briefly on engaging with your audiences and collating feedback: again, Emer has honed her evaluation to one, focused question, for a set period – she asks her visitors, “Why do you come here?”

NN Contemporary Art, Number Nine Guildhall Road, Northampton, NN1 1DP

Quickly Moving runs until 23 March 2019.

With thanks to Emer, Laura and Freddy at NN Contemporary Art.

This activity has been funded by Arts Council England.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Announcement of first 2019 InTheWindow artists


 AirSpace Gallery is really happy to announce the selection of the first three artists for our 2019 InTheWindow programme.

Our window at AirSpace is a really important space. When operational as part of our main exhibitions, it acts as a non-institutional way in to the gallery - accessible on the public's own terms. In between our exhibition programme, while changeover activity

is happening, we close the window up and offer the space, through a series of open calls, to artists to propose new and experimental works - for a period of 1-2 weeks - with a significant challenge, in how to successfully utilise the specific opportunities that such a front-facing, idiosyncratic space offers.

For this call, we specifically requested proposals which would catch the eye in an animated way - and so movement and performance of both object and self is central to each of the selected works.

For this first part of the 2019 window programme, we have selected artists Kiran Kaur Brar, Alex Billingham and Hollie Miller. Each artist will animate our window with a series of sculptural and special event single performances for a period of 2 weeks each between March 9th and May 4th, 2019.

Look out for details of each artist's works via our website - - and Facebook group . The schedule and artist info can be found below.

March 8th to 23rd, 2019 - Kiran Kaur Brar - timed to start on International Women's Day and Women's History Month, Koran presents a performative work referencing Suffragetism and violent/non-violent protest.
"Through resilience and playfulness, I’m interested in questioning assumptions about progress and power and the social, political and ideological systems that narrate them. Using photography, video, performance, text and collage, I attempt to resist formulas and aesthetic continuity. I am particularly interested in exploring the possibilities offered by site specificity to link the micro politics of the exhibition space/institution to the macro politics of the wider world. The visual language I employ is influenced by the context that I am responding to." - Kiran Kaur Brar

March 30th to April 13th, 2019 - Alex Billingham - Die Glamour Berg - an installation comprising a series of suspended sculptures currently measuring from 1 to 11 inch’s diameter, consisting of a mixture of wool, latex, false eyes, glitter, Dymo tape, Rein stones, wigs, false nails, sequins, glass beads, feathers and electrical tape. Finishing with a durational performance where Alex becomes a Berg, covering himself in materials then free myself from the Berg.

I’m a genderqueer performance artist from the West Midlands making work which mixes endurance, visual arts, low-fi tech, film and installation. It’s often visceral and physically exhausting, pushing what my body can take. While performance forms the core of my practice I also work in film, installation, sculpture, and audio using whichever medium best fits the idea.
Trust is central to my work, often trusting my safety to the audience while asking them to trust in me. I strip away all my supports leaving a tender and violent performance. Our place in the environment, gender, temporal mechanics, a fascination with the fetishization of Nuclear dread and an obsession with outdated hopes for the future all bleed into my work.
Research and experimentation inform my practice starting with a basic idea and playing around with different materials and techniques before committing to the research. I find it essential to have both working together as the physical often alters the direction of the research. Often adopting a low-fi visual style binding grunge with glitter and grime to make beautifully dirty work.


April 17th to May 4th, 2019 - Hollie Miller - two sculptures, consisting of  human hair wigs, individually wrapped around a pair of antique children’s boxing gloves with a cow bell of different pitches nestled in each palm - the hair coated in pigment (blood and bone flour) and hanging off delicate rusted chains will occupy each half of our window - gently rocking, ringing the bell and dropping pigment throughout the time. Finishing the exhibition, Hollie will present a site specific public performance.

Hollie Miller is a visual artist working with performance in live and recorded contexts. Her corporeal works are site-specific, intimate and time-based, exploring ephemerality in the digital age. In placing emphasis on recording live performances, Miller suggests that our everyday actions never cease and can be crystallized through the digital as ‘living fossils’. In her performances, Miller activates sculptural objects installed in the gallery space. These charged artefacts exist beyond the live moment where her affect has left residue.

Using her own body as a vessel of transgression and subversion, Miller’s work is informed by the history of women’s self-representation. Her artworks employ the language of cinema to critique and disrupt the capitalist portrayal of women by the commercial industries. She is particularly interested in vulnerability as a form of resistance and how this engenders our capacity for empathy in relation to the other. In her work Miller embodies the ‘minor gesture’ with poetic sensibility to highlight and overcome invisible violence on women.
When working within the natural environment, Miller often applies organic materials such as mud, onto her body as emblems of freedom that corrupt the surface of her skin. This physical change draws attention to her identity and sexuality via her actions and presence. By placing her body within the landscape, both interrupting and merging with the land, she surrenders to the earth as mother and/ or lover. Creating a dynamic between the physical and the metaphysical she uses performance as a tool for transformation and female ascension.

More details, including individual work statements and documentation coming soon...


Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Rivca Rubin: A Workshop on Mentoring, Leadership and Grow[ing]

30 November – 1 December 2018

Before the winter season set in, AirSpace Gallery received a visit from Rivca Rubin: a practitioner, behavioural scientist and Director of Imag?ne and Upwording Ltd, based in Manchester. In her own words, Rivca “assists people to live the lives they want to live; artists to ascertain their vision, locate the essence and refine their practice; companies to refine, grow purpose, align practice to values, and create working cultures where people are engaged and flourish.”

As part of AirSpace Gallery's ongoing organisational development, Rivca was selected to provide Co Directors Glen Stoker and Anna Francis, and artists Rebecca Davies and Selina Oakes with the tools and strategies to coach and mentor others, as well as to work together, fluently, as the Gallery moves forward into its future phases.

The two-day workshop was intense: from my own perspective, time was needed to let things 'settle in.' The session began with a rumination over our 'Desired Outcomes' – what we wanted to achieve from our time with Rivca. In a personalised journal printed 'Upwording – AirSpace Gallery' with Rivca's tagline “Words change worlds; yours, mine, ours,” we each jotted down a few loose ideas: collectively, we were excited but apprehensive. We spoke about what we wanted more or less of, and then reflected on the wider impacts of realising our desired outcomes – on ourvselves, our networks and the community.

One of the most useful techniques covered during the two-days was the GROW Coaching Model developed by Sir John Whitmore and Carol Wilson. For the purpose of these sessions, Rivca had adapted the GROW model and emphasised the mentor and coach's function as “facilitating their [mentee/ coachee] thinking without contaminating it with your own.” It's common sense really: in order to facilitate someone's thinking and speaking, it is vital that that same person is listened to and given the time to be listened to – a process which is so often neglected in everyday society and often a source of frustration.

So, we learnt to listen: to listen to our mentee's responses – to the language they used and the silences they required. Again, too often are we taught that 'silence' is a negative thing, when quietness can be a moment of thinking and revelation – at least this is what we were trying to learn. Another key part of the GROW model was learning how to detach yourself [as a mentor] from content, judgement and your own conclusions. For example, we [as mentors] asked the questions to stimulate thought rather than suggest responses to questions that may or may not exist.





G- began with What Do You Want? - the larger, Macro, overall goal – and ended with How Important is this to You? - the Micro goal. R- continued with What is Happening Now? - a process of positivity and reflecting on what is already in place, and then observing what is not in place. O- questioned What the Mentee Could Do with the current realities in place. W- concluded with the mentee setting themselves tasks and time scales.

In practising the GROW model between ourselves, we learnt a) more about each other b) more about ourselves c) more about how we do and do not listen. Another technique which attached itself to the GROW model was a process of 'reflecting back' – of mirroring what the mentee said to us, rather than providing new content. This was particularly challenging as, in society, we are frequently taught to speak about ourselves and what we know – rather than mirroring what someone else has said. In feeding back what the mentee had said and neither embellishing it nor adding new content, the mentee's words are solidified and strengthened. It is then up to them to acknowledge their own thoughts when fed back. This was particularly challenging.

Another tool used was eliciting new information through questions such as “What else” and “Is there anything else?” While frustrating at times, it had the potential to elicit new thought or action in the mentee. As mentors, we were asked to provoke self-feedback: asking the mentee to reflect upon their own performance in a presentation, performance or interview situation.

Towards the end of the first day, another model – COCI – was introduced to us. COCI is adapted from Deborah Barnard's Relational Dynamics Coaching and promotes non-violent communication: how to adopt a sense of acceptance and empathy without the need to agree. Before employing COCI we were also asked to either a) wait for an invitation to unpack a comment or conversation or b) ask for permission i.e. “may I share with you what I mean?”

C-lean > state the facts without judgement

O-wn > own your responses and avoid blame

C-urious > remain curious not furious

I-ntention > check your intention: recognise intention to hurt or reprimand and exchange it for an intention to connect and understand.

In using COCI, we were also asked to reflect upon basic human needs such as health and wellbeing, freedom: autonomy and choice, and safety and security. The focus of non-violent communication is to meet our human needs at no cost to ourselves or others. In relation to coaching, it is also important to separate your need from the coachee's needs.

Day two began with a reflection on the previous day's learning and putting the GROW model into practice while assessing each others' performances as mentors and coaches. We also looked at the differences between mentoring – in which mentor may direct the mentee's focus – and coaching – in which the coach guides the coachee with action points. Both however, focus on the learner (mentee/coachee) and 'advise' is rarely given as mentee/ coachee may become dependent on mentor.

Time was spent on how to open a coaching session: for this we followed the Seven Seas model (which is actually 6 Cs and 1 Qs) – Contract, Confidential, Comfort, Clock, Control, Coaching and Questions. We were also asked to 'Check-in' with our mentee at the beginning of each session.

In the second half of day two, we looked at Visualisations: a tool used to focus the mentee on the future and then to work backwards in the their minds to where they are today. This encourages a freedom in what the future could look like (with a focus on wants rather than needs) and how to get to b) from a).

'Upwording' concluded our two-day workshop. We spent a couple of hours reflecting on the use of language and how it contributes to the formation of power structures and hierarchies – and how languages of obedience and control can be dismantled. In Rivca's words, Upwording identifies “how small changes in the way we speak can create seismic impacts.” In the session, Rivca suggested that thinking and speaking are so habitual (she also noted that most things done by humans are habitual – not natural): Upwording promotes the use of active language choices to dispel coercive and authoritarian ways of communication.

For example, saying “I heard or I saw or I felt” instead of “You did or You said or You made me feel” shows that you are taking responsibility for your own emotions and actions, and not passing the blame to someone else. Upwording puts the emphasis on “I” but also highlights the use of fact and factual statements rather than evaluative ones. It also suggests that it is dangerous to place sentiments and ideas upon another person: in saying “You are….” the speaker places pressure on the receiver by stating that they are something which they have to live up to at all times. There is also the notion of a “theft of ideas” - if we suggest something to someone this limits their sense of capability to think and creative, and thus affects their self-esteem.

But, equally, there is also the manner in which you respond to a stimulus or how someone speaks with you. While Rivca states that it is better to use “How would you like it be?” and “What else could you do?” rather than you can do this or that, it is also up to the receiver to interpret stimulus how they see fit. There is always a choice – for both parties. Still, this workshop focused on mentoring and coaching and, as a mentor or coach, the task ahead of you is to elicit the best outcome for your mentee from the mentee themselves.

As AirSpace Gallery grows and develops, we (Glen, Anna, Rebecca and Selina) hope to provide further mentoring and coaching support for emerging and mid-career artists in the future. This two-day workshop, led by Rivca and supported by Arts Council England as part of our Organisational Development Bid, has enabled us to evaluate of modes of communication and models of mentoring which we plan to actively employ as part of AirSpace Gallery's upcoming programme.

Thank you to Rivca Rubin