Louise Kenward

Louise Kenward
with Katy Beinart, Jo Thomas and Frank Cartledge
Caravan, St Leonards

LK: I've been working in public spaces for the last 5 or 6 years. This current project follows an 11-month trip around the world connecting places called Bexhill. Living in Bexhill, East Sussex I discovered by chance there are two other Bexhills, in Canada and Australia. A desire to travel had been something that had been in the back of my mind for a long time and had never come to fruition, so this discovery was one of those nuggets that niggles away at the back of your mind, waiting, growing. The discovery of just how far you can travel by train around the world brought that discovery together into an epic adventure of travelling by train from Bexhill to Bexhill. The more I found out about these places the more intrigued I became. They are all quite small communities so making links and contacts was a really interesting process in itself. The trip was also inspired a local Victorian woman called Annie Brassey, a philanthropist and collector. A lot of the collections from her travels went to Bexhill Museum when it opened, leading me to researching and working a lot with them before I went away.

There is a Bexhill in Canada in the middle of Saskatchewan and one in New South Wales Australia, 20 miles from Byron Bay, all 3 are on railway lines.

I continued my research on Annie Brassey as I was travelling, and when I reached each Bexhill I spent time interviewing people that lived there, finding out stories about how the communities had grown, how places came to be there and came to be named Bexhill, I kept a blog as I travelled.

En route I – I learnt to crochet last summer - I wanted to do something that would be in the public space as a physical representation of linking communities and journey, so this is where the pebbles came from. I'd pick them up from beaches or train tracks and it would be a conversation starter. And something to do while I was on a train.

FG: Did the journey make you do things that were about being on a journey?

LK: The train travel in itself became almost a point of obsession, I had to travel by train everywhere and in some places I couldn’t do that so you embrace what's there. I've become completely fascinated with train travel and the whole experience of it, the meditative sound and sensation, being able to watch the changing landscape. Part of the reason for travelling by train was to see how the landscape changes and how everything is connected. The transition from one country or area to another is still fascinating.

FG: Was this a new departure in your practice?

LK: It was always my desire to travel. Previous works in public places included sea front shelters and bus stops. I worked in waiting spaces. In 2009 'Reflective Spaces' used the sea front shelters as frames and galleries for photographs of the spaces themselves, meditative spaces for time spent watching the sea. 'Waiting for the Bus' took this further and into a more urban environment, running in 2010 here in Hastings and St Leonards, many of the photographs can still be spotted on some of the bus stops in and around town. Public transport is something that unifies us and becomes a daily fixture of our routines, something we no longer think about consciously on our commute into work. This means that we pass into a slightly different level of awareness of our surroundings as it is so familiar we no longer concentrate or notice things in the same way we do in novel environments. I like this. It gives a window into the internal worlds we dwell in in very public spaces. I've always had an interest in the overlaps between the internal and external, and the in between, liminal spaces we inhabit. Being on a train felt like a liminal space, because it’s constantly in between, going somewhere, not a destination in itself.

FG: You haven’t made a physical piece of work, it’s been more about gathering…

LK: There's a lot of research and writing and photographs that have been made, so yes, a lot of gathering. On route I also made small pieces of crochet, stitching them around pebbles and stones and re placing them in their landscapes. This was a part of what I called 'A Trail of Breadcrumbs', that notion of leaving a trail along the way, if I got lost I could find my way home again. It was a way of leaving a part of me in each place, I would leave them in places that were particularly meaningful to me, I suppose wanting that connection to stay in some way. I worked with an artist run initiative in Adelaide called Tarp Space, when I made a piece for Bexhill in New South Wales. I crocheted lengths of tarpaulin around a brick from the old brickworks in Bexhill Australia and sited it back there.

I'd pick up stones and carry them around in my backpack while crocheting, or would crochet and then look for the right stone for it to cover. I did collect smaller stones from beaches too which I’ve brought home and catalogued. I'll spend some time at the museum here on a residency at the end of the year with Annie Brassey's collection and will start looking at the stones and things I've brought back, so the work continues beyond the journey.

FG: So you’re going to mix your things in with her collection?

LK: Yeah…and I'm conscious that that’s not strictly public work, and it’s interesting. It’s a public museum…

Another space I've worked in was the back of an old Victorian outfitters shop, it was built into the cliffs as most of these buildings are so it has constant running water seeping towards the sea, and a whole heap of stuff that just got dumped there, it was used as a storage/dumping ground. I spent 6 months there in the dark, in the wet, cataloguing and organising the junk and taking photos. Where stuff had been left for so long and it had been so damp, the metal had taken on a similar hue. Beautiful oranges and reds, of rust and brickwork. It straddled the public/private as it was accessible, and in Coastal Currents (Hastings Arts Festival) it was an open studio space, so people could come and watch me work. I used lighting and things…I guess one of the things I'm interested in is drawing attention to those things we don’t notice, get overlooked, or aren’t necessarily seen as beautiful, and get people to see them as beautiful.

FG: That’s why you're using found objects…but what was your practice before?

LK: 'Waiting for the Bus' installed photos in bus stops using the people waiting as subjects. So the photographs of the people waiting got reinstalled in the spaces, people eternally waiting for the bus. Again, they are easy to miss as they are what you would expect to see in those spaces, it's interesting how little we question what we see sometimes.

FG: How did people respond to those?

LK: If people noticed they’d smile or chuckle. I’ve seen pictures when people have stopped and got their friend to sit in front of the bus stop in front of a headless picture. So I quite like that kind of interaction and engagement.

FG: They’re very different kinds of engagement and interaction aren’t they? The first one the archive and found objects seems quite formal. Do you expect through your practice to elicit different kinds of understandings of the world?

LK: In many respects I suppose I'm trying to make work that fits the space, that responds to it, spending time in spaces and listening to them and seeing what it brings out. For me I'm endlessly surprised by how little we notice around us. And I'm as guilty of that as anyone. So it's almost a conscious or unconscious way of me slowing down and encouraging other people to experience that more reflective space. They are really different but there are themes, whether it’s through the function or the purpose.

FG: Yes the bus stop project seems like a bodily, immediate response whereas the thing at the back of the shop or the journey seems so much more process based.

LK: But outcomes seem quite similar. Contextually they are of the place. Interventions into place.

In Battle there's a dark dusty alleyway and I made a piece using mirrors for that Twitten, but again it was with a desire for it to fit within the alcoves so you would just catch a glimpse of your reflection as you walked past. I suppose they are very quiet pieces in public places.

FG: Some people have a really participatory process, does that come into your work?

LK: I suppose I'm giving it to the community to do with as they choose, it's not having events or drawing attention to it but almost giving the work up to the space. For the bus stop project I had a website where I invited people to send in their photos of bus stops and waiting, and some people got quite involved with that. Open access rather than anything more formal.

FG: How do projects tend to come about?

LK: The bus stop came from a project I had done the previous year in the seafront shelters. I enjoy noticing things, paying a different kind of attention to my surroundings, stopping and noticing. I can’t exactly remember the moment when I think ‘ah!’ but each one sort of leads to something else whether directly or indirectly.

FG: Do you get funding or just do it, what's your way of working?

LK: It varies. 'Twitten' the alleyway piece was a commission for Battle Art Trail and 'Reflective Spaces' the seafront shelter piece, linked with Coastal Currents which contributed some materials costs. 'Waiting for the Bus' was supported by the local bus company, Stagecoach. But it varies, if I have a project I want to do, I usually want to do it anyway but it depends on practicalities, I've often found ways of funding parts of a project. Funding remains an illusive and desirable work in progress.

FG: Interesting to see how the production of it happens. How we find a way I always find interesting.

LK: Yes I also had a small amount of money for 'Cave' for its open weekends from Coastal Currents, and it was a case study for my MA. It didn’t take many materials, but it was my time. I'm very much thinking I need to value my time more, but it was also a learning experience and an opportunity was there, so you go through the pros and cons as to the value of doing as opposed to not doing it.

FG: Are you aware of current campaigns for paying artists? We should be valued but also opportunities can lead to things.

LK: Yes I've been involved in groups locally where you do lots of work and don’t get any remuneration, but it’s kind of for the good of the group as well, supporting other artists and opportunities for them. But also where we’ve been successful in getting some funding and have had money for keeping a blog or doing admin work that all helps to support new initiatives.

FG: You’ve clearly got a lot of determination to continue as an artist…can everyone do this? I don’t know. Or is it just that you’re at the beginning of it?

LK: I think naivety has an awful lot to do with it! There is a value in that, not knowing what you are getting into until it's too late and you’ve got to get on with it. If it's important for you. Something highlighted from this trip the old cliché that anything is possible it's just about making decisions and following things through, and all those sticky bits are just part of the process.

The process of writing about the work, I find really helpful. The prospect of filling in application forms fills me with dread, but it is also something which is maybe just part of the job now. Sometimes the process of it can push and develop the work, make you question things more. If you want to do something interesting and new you kind of have to forge your own direction.

I am intending to apply for funding for the residency at Bexhill museum. De La Warr Pavilion are supporting the project as well so I'm meeting with them next week. They did an interim show when I got to the first Bexhill so I'm hoping …they’ve been great. So I guess that an idea held within the community, not an object as such but the notion that the idea can be continued. There's a local free magazine and I've been writing to Annie each time I crossed her path so I suppose that’s the next project, editing and writing those letters with an aspiration to getting something published which would be really lovely. So I'd been sending short letters to the local magazine – I guess coming back to the notion of community participation I guess accessibility of the work in some respects. Some people have got in touch with me because they've been following my journey through the letters.

FG: These are long-term commitments – how do you sustain them?

LK: I'm just really enjoying being in it! Having time and space to see where it goes. I did work for the NHS up until a couple of years ago. Arts things were short term then because it was harder for the headspace to focus on projects or to have a notion that something longer term could be possible, I didn’t want to/couldn't always commit myself. I'm embracing it now, thinking this is really fun! And certainly Annie has travelled many places…

FG: Did you set up practice in these places?

LK: Depending on my reception! In Australia I was very well directed by the chap who owns the general store. The local paper had been really interested and had written something about me before I got there, so some people knew about the project. So when I arrived, George at the shop had a list of people I should go and talk to so I went and knocked on people’s doors and got welcomed in and spoken to so that directed how I spent my time.

KB: There's something about arriving in a strange town. Do you think it would change if you were known?

LK: I suppose its overcoming self-consciousness and fears, knocking on strangers doors.

I mean if someone had curated that for you and organised it so you went and met people it would be completely different.

Yes the whole notion of expectations, so I'd just arrive and people were doing their washing or whatever and I like that informality.

FG: There's no intermediary. We’ve come across curators protecting the artist, the curator managing people.

FG: Did you send ahead to each place?

LK: I’d done a lot of research and made some connections. I had initially intended to spend time at different designated places so in terms of that plan, it didn’t work out, so I appreciate the need to be in a place before you decide what you are going to do there. There is an open air cathedral in Bexhill, Australia, which is something they are very proud of, so I got in touch with the man that manages that space with a view to having a formal residency there, but there was a delay of email responses... I just needed to go and see it and spend time.

There's a level of not knowing, life just shows you what turns up… And it changes your practice, and the duration of journey is part of that shift…

FG: And the process you go through to make it happen.

LK: Synchronicity – that notion of travelling with Annie Brassey, having her in spirit. I spent a lot of time trying to find out about her, looking at her photograph albums, there are lots of local connections. It felt hard to connect with her though until I started travelling.

KB: Can you say a little bit about her?

LK: She was a local Lady, her husband, Tom, was a local politician so there are lots of markers to the name here. She was originally from London and he was from Cheshire, his father was a railway contractor, another coincidence for my journey. They lived in Catsfield, in a house they built, and she was seen as one the very early successful travel writers. Her journals were published from letters she wrote to her dad. Tom was a sailor as well as a politician so they would sail to all the colonies around the world in their yacht which there is a replica of in Hastings museum, and they took their whole family, children, pets, and the servants, so in terms of parallel trips it was quite different!

They were big supporters of the arts, and forward thinking in many respects, putting on musical concerts that were free, thinking it would be good for people's wellbeing. She travelled until she was 48, when she died of malaria, off the coast of Australia. Arriving in Darwin I found records of the time she died and that felt quite emotional. Having gone through the process of the journey and rereading her books it has felt like I've got to know her much more. There have been moments when she could have been there with me. It felt really uncanny.

Sadly there are few descendants of Annie, but one or two local connections still. Her daughter married the Earl De La Warr, responsible for the Pavilion in Bexhill, so there are continuing links and legacies.

KB: Is place really important to you?

LK: Yeah…I think it is…increasingly so

JT: Do you consider yourself an artist?

LK: I guess so…the practice (is living)

FC: Fictionalising, like Sebald, do you also see it as psycho geography? People have problems defining where they sit…

LK: It’s tricky…

Driving over here I thought, I don’t make pots I don’t have canvases and I am instantly apologetic. It's harder to show, to explain what it is I do, to know how to describe it, more so when I am in the middle of it, I can't always see it until afterwards.

Since this interview took place Louise Kenward secured Arts Council funding for a project 'Bexhill to Bexhill' part 3 www.bexhilltobexhill.com - she also secured a Heritage Lottery Funded grant to complete the planned Bexhill Museum Residency 'In Conversation with Annie' in 2015.
Louise is currently collaborating with Nicole Zaaroura on a series of projects as part of Residency365 www.residency365.wordpress.com in the UK and Europe.
She continues to work in public and derelict/abandoned spaces. She is currently writing and making work in Kent and Sussex and can be followed on Twitter @bexhill2bexhill www.louisekenward.com


Place Specific












Place Specific