with Jo Thomas and Katy Beinart
at Hackney Wicked Festival
AW: My practice had been very separate to what I've done in education until quite recently. It's all concerned with memories and framing and how the camera works with what we record and maybe filter to what we remember.
I work as a technician in a school 4 days a week and I run workshops after school and I worked with Jack this year and last year on Hackney Wicked. This year I've brought my practice in and put it right in between the 2 aspects of what I do, education and artist and brought them together here first time.
FG: Was that something you had been wanting to do?
AW: It had been something I was trying to work out how to do. (There are) so many different kinds of areas of career and how you make money and in the last year I've really tried to bring it all together and think about it as one career. It’s a more positive way for me to view things like that and its really helped me understand a bit more about how I can work and the way both sides inform each other... because I always kept the paid employment in school quite separate to my art career and it’s been a really positive thing to bring them together. And this is a brilliant platform. I knew I wanted to try things out here for the first time, I wasn’t quite sure how it would happen I brought it to Jack and this is what's happened…
So I've built a sculpture. My work is mainly wall based in general and exhibited in fairly standard white cube gallery environments but it is quite structural, the canvases layer up in 3D and sit on the floor as well as being hung on the wall. So I knew I wanted to make a sculpture. It's all about framing and using the canvas stretcher bars as a viewfinder and a device for describing that and their duality is really important. I've made this structure which is pretty geometric, I just came along with lots of frames and stretcher bars and started building a structure hopefully to make lots of different framing devices for the surrounding landscape, which has changed quite a bit throughout the week because it was blissfully quiet on the Monday when I dropped the stuff off and quite big vistas to frame things through and now it’s a lot shorter what you can see and there are more people.
I wanted to develop it so people look through it, and think about what they would like to record from the area and I made these separate devices with acetate for people to look through so they are literally holding a viewfinder and trace the area they’re interested in or want to record. Like a manual camera recording, taking a snippet through a sketch.
FG: How has it been working with the audience
AW: Really positive. It’s been a nice crowd today, I was a bit anxious about how the party atmosphere would affect it but it’s got busier and busier and I think a lot of people have seen people with the frames and decided they want to have a go. It’s completely changed from what I was thinking originally and there was about an hour when everyone was doing portraits of each other and that was a really nice thing to happen. It’s really heart-warming how engaged
people have been. You start of tentatively asking people if they’d like to make a drawing and everyone gives you the cold shoulder, I didn't think it would go as well at 12 today as it has.
FG: How is it different to the other situations, like when you’ve done engaged
work in schools.
AW: There is an element of catharsis outside of the academy, I never want to be that rigid about outcomes, but at the same time I can plan something in school, over plan it, and within an hour the children have obliterated that and that’s what happened here today, actually. I wanted people to use the sculpture to find the views and people haven’t done that and I think the results have been just as fun.
FG: Has it made you want to do more work in a public place?
AW: I underestimated how – I mean my whole days been spent facilitating and I haven’t had a chance to reflect and hopefully tomorrow I'll have some help. I wanted to be part of the work a bit more. The screens I've put on with the photographs I've taken, I was hoping to work over the weekend so I didn’t plan it that well, I didn’t realise how full on it would be. It’s been brilliant to spend the day talking to the public, and maybe tomorrow I can rope some help in I can watch a bit more.
FG: How's today helping your practice?
AW: I don't really know yet. It's strange, I'm not quite sure what my work is doing here, if it’s acting as a tool to help people draw within the format that I thought or whether my work is stood quite separate. The practice of tracing the views and landscape has completely overtaken that.
FG: Will it feed back in?
AW: I want to take the screens and the drawings into the studio within the next few weeks. It would be nice to project the drawings and record them. I will use the lines and elements. I decided that because I haven't been able to draw myself, I want this to come into the studio but I'm not sure how yet.
FG: Does it feel risky?
AW: Yeah, and I completely underestimated that. I knew I wanted to do my work in some way and until I started putting it together on Wednesday, and had all sorts of traumas like a bar being built next to it, a black wall really doesn’t facilitate views, and that was massively emotional and I completely underestimated how much I put myself in that…because within a gallery context, I mean it’s still completely daunting when you put your work up on a wall but this is completely different again because the audience
that walk into a gallery have made a decision to an extent and a lot of the people wandering around today aren’t even clear it’s an arts festival…its learning to let yourself be surprised by people and not wanting something to happen.
It was best in the middle of day before it got really busy. Such an array of reasons people had come. A lady who spent a long time doing a drawing this morning, her brother came back with his daughter to show her the drawing his auntie had made. I don’t think they expected that to happen today but I think there's something really positive there that’s quite lovely.
FG: What does losing control mean to you? Anxiety and relief or enjoyment or…
AW: Anxiety in this context is my work being here. Losing control
I don’t have too much anxiety about. The school I work in is very rigid and academic so any opportunity to not map something out - to move those freedoms – I don’t see myself as a facilitator in that way - within school environment its very focused on an outcome. I try and take a long road to get there so the outcomes are different and personal.
FG: It seems to be a generous gift in the delicacy of the work, the quality of the frames. Had you thought about that?
AW: I’ve realised it over the last 2 or 3 days. But what hasn’t happened today is I was keen for people to draw on the actual work. But I knew I’d have trouble saying that out loud. I’d spoken to Jack about that and I knew he was quite keen for that to happen, and I was like well it can happen but I probably can't tell someone to do it. But if you were to take a pen and give it to someone and take that decision away from me that would be good.
JT: There’s a vulnerability in your public work – it’s a rawness of your experience. Would you be able to retain that do you think? Is it important?
AW: I don’t know but that’s a really nice observation that I can take away. From 3pm onwards there was an element of frustration, I wanted it to be more integral and joined than it actually was, I envisaged it being like that.
FG: I think that’s universal, in terms of people that have been in today. Expectations. In a studio you work to your own limits and you define your actions whereas in this setting you are no longer the creator of your environment, you're a victim of the environment you create.
AW: As you say that I'm thinking what's interesting and what I’d like to take, because this is a safe platform as far as platforms go, for doing that, it’s that demographic issue and what becomes really interesting is when you take it out of that completely…I mean today people have come to a festival and to an activation site…I think an interesting thing would be to take it out of this environment in a more quiet way, in a prolonged way, and think about ways to do that. It's so intense and sometimes things assimilate in your head a long time after. At the moment it has just been a really busy day.
FG: So what made you want to try it?
AW: I’ve been trying to consolidate all the different aspects to my careers/practice and in recent years I’ve become aware of how much I care about education, and it’s quite a political change in government and consciousness when you see something you’ve taken for granted…
FG: You were talking about audiences…
AW: Its surprised me, it could have been more trendy East End hipster, and we’ve all been worried about proximity of bars and it really hasn’t been an issue and the audience has been quite broad, far more so than I was expecting.
FG: But who is your audience/audiences and who would you like them to be?
AW: I don’t know!
FG: Is it important it's you in that piece? Could someone else facilitate the piece?
AW: Yes I’d like to be with the work drawing and chatting to people who are drawing as well.
FG: So – it’s both a public and private piece of art?
AW: The screens that are on there aren’t a finished work, it’s a framework for looking and the work that will continue for me in the studio is going to come off and return to the canvas.
FG: Why don’t you send us something a few weeks down the line? We’ve been here in the process but it hasn’t become a final piece.
AW: It's bigger than anything I thought…yes.
Dialogue continues between her art practice and education work, recently exhibiting a participatory artwork with The Pump House Gallery www.alicewilson.org