Sharon Haward

Sharon Haward
with Katy Beinart, Laura Krikke and Jo Thomas
Caravan, St Leonards station car park

SH: I’m based in Hastings, I’ve lived here for 20 years. I had a studio in Hastings town centre until recently, a project space and studio. For 4 years we ran it as an experimental project space, doing 2 or 3 projects a year, in a very ad hoc informal way. Students came and showed work, we did the End of the World project and we had film screenings and anyone who had a good idea - we were up for saying yes, come and do something.

Some people from communist/communist gallery came down and did a whole day’s event, a lecture about Marxism and art, it was quite surreal and strange but we are up for people coming and trying something. It’s no longer happening because the Hastings Trust who owned the space have sold the building.

Now I work at home, struggling in back bedroom and garden. We hadn’t got funding, but by subletting the space to artists to do projects or prepare for an exhibition helped, but it was all done really informally.

KB: How would you describe your practice?

SH: I’m drawn to shabby melancholic spaces which perhaps I need to grow out of. I had a normal upbringing but perhaps it's just a reaction! As a painter I wasn’t very interested in that kind of white cube gallery space, I was up at Farley Bank and some of the social housing they were letting artists use it, at the same time as 1-2-1, and I started using the flat as a canvas, drilling through the walls, I took all the walls down replacing them with all sorts of materials, it changed my practice completely. That whole thing of using the space as subject rather than striving to think what is the work about. Most of my work is site-specific and in a sense these blank spaces are more available to go and do something in and try things out. I’m not poo-pooing galleries but I seem to be drawn to blank plots of land, abandoned buildings.

FG: Which Media do you use?

SH: It’s very dependent on the space. The project I’ve just done in Eastbourne which is the space called Curious Projects, its fairly new, it’s a little long narrow space, so I did a sculptural piece. Normally I do sculpture/installation and film together but it’s a strange little shopping centre and I made an intervention. Another piece I’m working on for Electro Studios, is very different because of the space, mirrors, reflected images and sound.

FG: Do you have ideas before you see the space?

SH: It varies: in one space, Electro Studios, I thought I’d love to do something here, I had seen Liz Rhodes work in the Tate tanks and I got excited about doing something like that but 2 years later I’ve gone off the boil a bit…

It depends, it’s sometimes immediate and other times you have to sit there and let it unfold, let it speak to you…

FG: How has being in Hastings been? Do you find you can get work?

SH: Well in a sense what I need to do is to get out of Hastings! I have done a lot here because it’s easy, and I’ve applied for things all over the place, I’ve done things in Southampton, France, Belgium and elsewhere but it’s more difficult to explain what my practice is. People say what’s it going to look like and I say I can't really explain until I’ve made it. I was shortlisted for the Brighton festival house thing, and SITE gallery, and they want a vision of something. Where I struggle is, you say well it could be a bit like this, it might have these elements, but until I’ve done the research and been in the space I cant say what its going to be…

FG: Do you think most opportunities are like this?

SH: Yes and I think also you build up a relationship with people, its like with Christine (Gist) she’ll know I’ll do what I say I’m going to do but if its someone you don’t know and they don’t quite get what you are saying, I haven’t quite found the magic formula for convincing people it’ll come off.

For example with SITE gallery – I went for an interview there about Utopias and I was so desperate to do the project, but they wanted something more sexy, really, more young, I look at the people they chose and it was a girl who did something tongue in cheek about weight loss… they did say to me how would l get people in here and I’ve done a lot of gallery interpretation so I said there are loads of ways. I had probably over researched. It is that thing that galleries are looking for a certain kind of art. You can shift this and that way a little bit but you can’t pretend to be something you are not.

KB: That’s interesting about age/experience, As you get older you’ve got more experience and more to offer, but at the same time it seems like often working with galleries they want something just out of art college. Where does that leave people with an established practice but without the name?

SH: I suddenly realise I’m in this liminal space between … I’m emerging but I’ve got a lot of experience! The more you look around, you see very zeitgeisty projects just out of art school , or you see these projects with loads of money and support from galleries, and the bit in the middle is kind of missing, serious, middle aged, you know what you’re doing but you cant find the right slots.

The problem is, it's not that you want to have a show at the Tate Modern or a big gallery in London, a little bit of support from an institution just gives you the opportunity to do something a bit more ambitious.

LK: I wonder if working outside galleries also makes that tend to be more difficult…

[Discussion around why it's hard to get things and the idea of making an agency for this type of work, who could produce or sell this, market for it]

SH: Its problematic in a way, I don’t mind working locally but you do get to a point where you think, I could really do with some money, I could really do with doing a big project, not for the kudos but it’s a stepping stone for more ambitious projects…

FG: Has it got more difficult with funding cuts?

SH: We did apply to Arts Council from the studio and I also applied and didn’t get money…although I have had funding from them a several times before, I don’t know if I’m not doing it very well or how its framed, or what.

LK: [discusses funding, getting to know them.]

SH: We’ve lost a connection with the Arts Council, we did talk to the local advisor, but you just have to keep being open to things, or generate your own projects because of a lack of opportunities.

The criteria for doing things, are you going to get paid, are you going to learn something new, is it going to take you somewhere different, are you going to be in contact with people who can support you, if its none of those things I just don’t do it. Its good to say yes but you have to measure it.

FG: What about other ways of making things happen?

[Discussion about Christine, approaching business, etc.]

SH: You’ve got to apply to 20 companies, its so much work.

FG: It’s double the work…

SH: A lot of projects that do get funding , the money doesn’t trickle down to the artist, the artists fees are right at the bottom of the agenda, and you don’t know if you are going to get paid.

FG: Making a living…

SH: Yes I do a lot of teaching and I do work in gallery education at the De La Warr and community education, you have all these strings to the bow, but if you could earn from the art then you wouldn’t have to do so much other stuff. But it’s not detrimental, it’s great, but it’s…

FG: Describe a recent piece of work?

SH: My most recent piece was in Eastbourne, called Interruptions, in this long shop space. I had a week and I did a model before I went in and I wanted this sense of stuff coming into the space and emerging from it. I took all this wood down and it fell together really beautifully, it was just like doing a puzzle, you are suspended in the work. It was a great week, it was luxurious, no one was there to tell me what to do, all sorts of odd people walking in and out. But that’s what you spend a lot of time trying to achieve, that moment of being in the zone.

FG: Being in the zone… It seems so hard to achieve that.

SH: It’s a bit like an actor being on stage, some actors say they only feel alive on stage and I wouldn’t go that far but you do feel that moment of being alive to possibilities.

I really enjoy the stage where people go what the hell are you doing. As you are constructing it you are aware that people are going to be looking at it, and a lot of my work is about the haptic and physical experience of walking through it but because they are behind glass, it had to be something where it was much more strongly visual. It was good, a lot of people came and said what’s this, it’s interesting, people think it’s something you’ve not even considered and that’s like ‘oh’.

FG: It has a different meaning for everyone.

SH: Yes and you are informing each other about what you are getting from it.

FG: So having conversations in other spaces would add something new for you?

SH: Yeah that adds something to the experience.

FG: Do you do any more participatory practices?

SH: Yes the other project I run with a friend of mine is called Runway and it started off as a reaction to Anthony Gormley at the De la Warr and you had to pay to go an see all these figures on the roof and so we stood on the beach every Sunday for an hour throughout Coastal Currents. You think ‘why are we doing this?’ but then it’s so great, you meet lots of people and they like the idea of being in a group and walking. You have no idea how many people will turn up, whether it’s going to be 3 or 30. We always do photographs, they started off as recording but also a thank you to the people that take part. It’s a lovely project to do. Its not quite knowing where to take it, we could make a book. It started off as a reaction to artists work and we did one at Folkestone Triennial, and we knew Cornelia Parker was going to do a mermaid of some of description, we saw it on the beach wrapped in a tarp and we did something with mirrors. For International Women's Day we did a walk from Hastings to Rye and raised money for a women's refuge.

It’s fairly easy to do and quite a nice way to share and be the art, live art, for a moment.

FG: How do people come across it?

SH: For the Whitstable one we did it as part of the fringe, left postcards, put an ad in the paper and tweeted and we had 20 people in it and it’s an interesting thing to see what people are saying…

(KB describes seeing it)

SH: We did one earlier in the year where walked from Hastings to De La Warr, it looked operatic, it had this intense and brooding quality. It has a site-specific element in that we go and rehearse where we walk, what its going to look like, where we are going to take photographs. Getting the distance right for the figures, so you don’t get caught up in the details.

The documentation is the evidence, a record of the work. In the past we would hire someone but now we do them ourselves because we know what we want.

FG: If you could do anything, what would you create?

SH: I think it would depend on the space.

FG: It’s always site-specific?

SH: Well I’ve started doing things that are more photographic, using digital and trying to diversify so I don’t have just one string to my bow.

FG: Is there a dream site or a dream project?

I seem to be drawn to gritty, urban industrial space, an old factory or a prison. I’m attracted to concrete and structures and brickwork, the architectural articulation of space, and allied to stories, to try and tap into something and say something new about it.

FG: Working purely for process…

SH: There are lots of empty buildings but it’s quite difficult to get access.

FG: Part of this could be about linking up artists and spaces.

SH: And also artists who work in the same way, I mean there aren’t that many.

it’s a sensibility. Alone you can't do a project on a big building, so if there’s 5 of you, you can support each other. I’m not really interested in things that go on for a long time; it can just be for a weekend. It depends on the amount of kit.

[Discussion about a project showing films in a space]

Ephemeral…or permanent

SH: It’s a whole genre of public art which is fairly safe. I’ve got the East Sussex book on public art and its all quite…

[Discussion about recent commissions and how safe they are. Range, spectrum of public art. Perceptions of safe, openness.]

FG: Tactics and practice and situations…the logistics of it…is this what it’s about?

SH: Well it’s like you have these great ideas but in reality if you don’t have funding, you’ve got to get it from a to b, you’ve got to get it in your car, you’ve got to get electricity. But if that was unlimited you could get someone else to do all that.

FG: So do you think you work backwards nowadays then? You work out what you need and then whether or not you can do it?

SH: Yes sometimes,

FG: The tactics make the work then. The parameters.

SH: There is always a parameter in a way though.

[A discussion about the parameters and money changing this.]

SH: having some boundaries is really helpful. So after I couldn’t get into the space one day I realised I could just work with what I’ve got.

FG: That comes through experience though doesn’t it.

SH: Almost…I make these elements to the work and I think oh the films the thing, but then when get there, other elements come in and it all comes together on the last day…

FG: Being well known does preclude certain kinds of outcomes. If someone else did it for you, you wouldn’t have these accidents

SH: Yes things go wrong all the time and you have to kind of know that.

[Discussion about risk, how the funders or curators take away the accident.]

FG: The accident is where discoveries are made and the work moves forward.

SH: So yes I seem to quite enjoy that painful process. So look at artists who say I want this, it’s this big and these materials. I would never find it that satisfying. The whole idea is that the work is shifting as you are making it. (…) You’re going on a journey…you need don't need to know the destination before you get there.

Each site/venue provides a stimulus for exploring the relationship between the artist, space and audience. Projects include a site-specific element and depend on an embodied experience of the space. Interventions might include one object which has a direct relationship to the site or an assemblage of objects presented via a range of media.


Place Specific












Place Specific