Firstsite Q&A

by Beauchamp Art

Questions from Conni Rosewarne (MRes Arts and Cultural Research, University of Brighton) regarding my time at Firstsite as part of the Digital Residency program.

How did you first become interested/involved with the Digital Factory Residency?

Prior to the residency, my first interaction with Firstsite was in 2014 for an pop-up exhibition undertaken as part of my Fine Art course at the Norwich University of the Arts. For this, we were putting together a show featuring the works of a number of students from the university, of which I was one. For this, I made a short looping video, which featured every image from searching ‘Colchester’ in Google merging together; as the piece was to be in response to some element of Firstsite and the surrounding area. This was then displayed on an iPad, and from this myself and others drew from the video, creating a large, increasingly abstract chalk drawing on the black boards in on of the educational spaces.

However, since then I have had a few interactions with Firstsite, having participated as an artists at one of the Float events, and was the photographer for one of the featured artists at the Phantom event last year. Following this, I received and email from one of the staff at Firstsite regarding the residency. I then applied, as the criteria, themes and environment involved in it appealed to me as a means of extending my practice and engaging in a public-facing institution alongside other artists.

What process did you go through in responding to the space and exhibition?

As the residency was intended to be a platform to produce work in response to the Andy Warhol exhibition, I decided to take the idea of responding to another artist deliberately too literally, and started making work in response to the image of Warhol himself, making a 3D bust of his head, and reworking it systematically through a structuralist process of colouring and organising individual frames of a film of this model, producing several variations of the video which have since been featured in the main exhibition in the Digital Factory space at Firstsite.
Along side this I have also been attending a number of the workshops, meetings, and events taking place as part of the residency, as well as with the other groups, such as Y.A.K., that are involved in the space. This has provided an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the other artists and the public whilst participating a range of events.
The notion of the ‘Digital Factory’ has also been an appealing area of contemplation, which follows on effectively from my previous interest in Post-Fordist labour practices. Particularly the idea of an unfixed workplace that extends beyond the physical boundaries of a single institution, but is saturated into a perpetual labour by the contemporary post-peasant and post-proletariat worker.

Is there a criteria that you are required to follow in regards to art work outcomes?

We were requested to come into the space on a semi-regular basis, which has meant that during the length of the residency I have been into Firstsite a few times each week. In terms of the output of work, there were no strict limitations or expectations of what we were to produce, but there had to be some connection to Warhol; though this could have been exemplified more by the modes of working, and did not have to be a literal response to specific aspects of his work, though evidently all of the resident artists were selected, at least in part, on the basis of some predisposition towards a Warholian approach.
Nevertheless, I found that taking his image as the basis for digital experimentations a fairly rich starting point; not only using it as the subject of scrutiny and the object of attention – to the point at which his face became fetishised – but also in adopting him as a character. This included dressing as Warhol at a number of the events, as a sort of pseudo-performance, teetering on ridiculousness and absurd parody undertaken subtly through the application of a black polo-neck sweater.

How have you worked or collaborated with the other artists taking part in the residency?

With a number of the events we engaged with one another in discourse and practical outcomes, both with the other artists and the Firstsite staff. For example, in one of the public sound workshop events, Sian and I improvised together on a glockenspiel, her bowing and I hammering the metal keys, as this was fed through microphones into the space outside, whereupon it was manipulated and warped by a selection of effects pedals and distorting devices, operated by other individuals.
On another occasion, where Will had taken a photograph of myself stood next to images of Warhol in the exhibition, where I was dressed as the artist; with a costumed blonde wig, sunglasses and polo neck attiring my person; these photos where then altered using the ‘FaceSwap’ smartphone app, then used as the basis for a series of manipulations where we exchanged the footage produced multiple times in a form of ‘Video Tennis’, resulting in an increasingly warped and abstract film.
However, another mode of collaboration that I have foregrounded has been the use of photography and documentation of the events and exhibitions which we have undertaken as a group; with this role as documenter forming no small part of my output on the residency. These photos from the Factory floor have also been used as part of the promotional materials for events at Firstsite, in addition to contributing to the booklet produced by Sian to accompany the exhibition.

How have members of the public responded to the residency, particularly those taking place in the artist workshops and learning programme? How have you approached them?

The public response seems to have been fairly positive, though the feedback is difficult to gauge, particularly as this is my first residency, my first exhibition opportunity since university, and the first time Firstsite has run such a residency programme, therefore there are no distinct points of comparison. Even so, a reasonable number of people have attended the various events, and there is an eagerness to produce a broad catalogue of activities with which the public can engage on behalf of the gallery, in conjunction with an enthusiasm with those whom participate.
Initiating dialogues at the public events is made easier by the shared act of cultural consumption and interaction; whether that be watching a performance, discussing a video, or contemplating the potential of banana piano powered by a MakeyMakey device.

How do you feel people in Colchester have responded to the Andy Warhol and accompanying artists show?

Those who have come into the gallery seem to respond well to the welcoming of Warhol to Colchester, as one of the most important artist of the last century in the oldest town in England. Nevertheless, the issue to entreating an expanding audience into the space is often problematic; as putting on events and receiving feedback from the section of the public already engaged in arts activities may often seem like preaching to the converted. However, the staff at Firstsite have been superbly adamant about expanding public engagement, particularly with youth groups.
Though Warhol’s Capitalist critique remains ever relevant to contemporary culture; curating an exhibition in such a way, whilst making a show ‘accessible’ and ‘family friendly’ may result in a glossing over of some potentially rich, if controversial areas of Warhol’s work and life. Still, the Firstsite exhibition is a ‘good exhibition’, and is no worse for not foregrounding the potential role of amphetamines, autistic sensibilities, and sexual intrigue surrounding Warhol’s personal life that may have contradicted the image of the artist and his work that was desired to be portrayed for the intended demographic.

How have you found working and creating art work in the Firstsite building?

I could be said that I have ‘worked’ in Firstsite, but I have not ‘laboured’ in it. In as much as I have attempted to be active in my engagements within the gallery and the Digital Factory space, but the production of specific pieces – initiated within the physicality of the building – have mostly been laboured upon outside of Firstsite, within my own productive environment. Nevertheless, the residency has been useful in motivating work and interaction with other artists, and will lead towards a more long-standing engagement with the gallery and surrounding area.
Although may have not been occupying the space in order to edit films, or work on the digital aspects of my work, it only becomes activated when it is introduced into a social context. Without the conversation before, during, and following the production of a video or other work, there would be no piece. The act of artistic labour never ceases, it is not tied to a single location or single individual, it is the product of interaction with other people and other places, whether directly by the shared use of a physical space, or indirectly by the shared construction of an idea through sustained discourse, infused with the chaotic systems of the neural pathways of multiple persons multiplying exponentially the potential of an thought considered on the verge of isolation.