with Katy Beinart, Frank Cartledge and Jo Thomas
Hello I’m Julia Riddiough
, I’ve run away from everywhere but I’m living in Margate at the moment. I ran away from Hoxton St, I had a gallery space there for three years, I started off late with my art practice and went to uni in my mid forties, did a four year part time photography degree, went to london and foolishly thought ‘I know, I’ll just have a project space/gallery space.’ The experience was absolutely amazing, life enhancing, enriching, frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time. And even though it was only open 3 days a week it consumed me and I wasn’t able to do my art practice. And this film was in the pipe, and it got stuck in the pipe and it was terrible I couldn’t get it out.
Katy: What were you doing in the project space? Was it a gallery?
Julia: It was called A. Brooks Art. It was named after the florist shop, It was in a victorian house/ florist shop and it was handed down the female line of this family and then it came to me. I acquired it being a lady and I decided to call it the name of the florist as it had the original facade. And in fact I worked with the family quite closely, we did three projects with them. One called ‘ we florists
’ and it was an artist called Laurence Daley. He wanted to build two giant flowerbeds in the gallery and the flowers that were planted came from the local community and we asked people to contribute their plants and flowers, and we worked with three local charities (Hoxton Trust, St Mary’s Secret Garden and Shoreditch Trust) and they all had horiticultural offers for people in the community and they joined in as well.
And one of the florists planted all of the plants live at the private view, and we kept them alive with dehumidifiers that were taking the air from the gallery, converting it to water and we documented it all. And everyone who brought a flower had their own digital portrait that was sent to them and that went into the book, and then the pictures that were taken throughout went into the book, we had a talk about the value of art in the community. In the end I bagged them all up and replanted them back into the local community garden. People were popping in to check on their plants and someone came in to check on their herbs and then others would come along and take a cutting for their roast dinner. It created a community, or recreated it as such.
Katy: How long was it for?
Julia: Each show was six to eight weeks. Basically the gallery supported solo shows and artists who wanted to explore the depth and breadth of their practice and do something that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to do. Because we had freedom in the space we were able to do what we liked.
And then the other project with the florist family we used their archive and filmed and interviewed them and the artist built a shelf in the gallery and rephotographed images from the collection and framed them. So we had them on the shelf, and we had some very old dining, domestic furniture where you could sit around actual artifacts from their archive and read scripts that the artist had annotated from the intervies and he made a vinyl record and we had an old 80’s gramophone so you could come in and play the record and actually hear them speak about the space, what it meant to them and their lives in Hoxton St.
Katy: that sounds like a really successful way of connecting into the community…
Julia: Yeah, I didn’t want to have a space that sort of beamed in and was what I would call high end conceptual art. It was very important for me for every show to have an entry level for everyone. I used to have the door open rain or shine, and people who come in and ask whats going on in here, and I would invite them to tell me what it means to them. It didn’t matter if they liked it or not, it was important they tried it.
Katy: Do you think you started off thinking about working with public, or working in public space?
Julia: A really interesting example was the caravan we had at Whitstable in 2010, because that was at the beach and that was about getting the public involved and getting them to come in and respond to the artwork.
And as part of that project we had something called the diary of emotion. So we got people to fill out postcards and respond to the work with the idea of collating a diary of the emotional responses of everyone who viewed the work.
Katy: But how did you get into ‘that’ kind of work from doing photography? Or did you set out to do work that work that did connect with the public?
Julia: It wasn’t a conscious thing to do that, as an artist you want to connect with your audience
, I certainly want to engage with people, hear their feedback, hear their story, interact with them, hear their response and understand what that experience meant to them.
For example in the barbershop, that was challenging because men don’t tend to want to discuss things in that way.
Katy: So how did you get the idea for the barbershop?
Julia: I was at a critique at Whitstable satellite, and it was actually another artist, Nicole Mollett who said “Why don’t you do a barbershop residency?” and at the time I thought ‘What is she on about, she’s mad?’ because the film I was showing at the critique was all about men’s hairdressing and men’s issues but when I got the train to Margate I just thought ‘ What a brilliant idea” it all fell into place, at the time I was so nervous at the crit I couldn’t work it out until I had left.
Katy: It seems to make sense that you want to engage with an audience which isn’t necessarily an art audience
. By being in the barbershop you do that.
Julia: So I show the film and I don’t say its an art project, I just say its about men’s hair. Because when I had the gallery in Hoxton, as soon as you said it was art, people would just turn off and think it wasn’t for them, as if they weren’t entitled. It wasn’t for them.
Katy: So by saying art = not entitled?
Julia: Especially in Hoxton St, where it was a mixed community of Turkish and what I called the white, old, indigenous population and they just thought it wasn’t for them.
Katy: I suppose they have it all around them but its not a world they aren’t invited into.
Julia: I would say come in and have a look and tell me what you think, I used to call it an art conversation. If I could get them in and told me what they thought about it, I would say, didn’t say gallery I called it a project space. Once they heard that they would change and they would have the slight fear. I would say ‘Its alright, if you don’t like it, its actually as valid as liking what you’ve seen.’ But most people would say ‘I like it.’ Or I would ask them a question that opened up a dialogue and I would engage
them in a very everyday way, so people felt it was something they could identify with.
So it’s the same with the barbershop. I just say ‘ Have a look at my little short film about men’s hair’ and then I ask them ‘What the pleasures and challenges of being a man are today? Give me a barber shop story?’ and ‘If you ruled the world what would it look like?’ Some guy this morning, he was fantastic and he said to me if he ruled the world it would be fluffy. And he was really great, he really opened up to me. I asked him where he had been and he said he had just had a fry up, and I said ‘Late night then?’ and he said ‘Yeah’. And he watched the film and he said ‘ That’s really funny, we’ve just been talking about relationships and how hard it is.’ I asked him how old he was and he said 38, and all of his mates were 38 and we are just finding it really difficult and we can’t cope.
Katy: So people were being really open with you?
Julia: I did a similar exercise in Margate in a fantastic barber shop there. We had the full spectrum. When I asked one man about the pleasures and challenges he said ‘Not being a woman.’ So you have one extreme to the other where I was kneeling behind this barber’s chair and this guy looked at me in the mirror with tears in his eyes and he said ‘ I’ve lived my life in this barber shop, I came in here when I was a young boy and now I’m looking at an old man.’ The way he said it and how he looked me in the eye in the mirror and we both choked up. He felt like he had wasted his life, and I can’t remember what I said but I turned it around into something positive. But its just mad the two extremes.
That particular barbershop is a lifeline between for the location because men were coming in really just to chat, shoot the breeze, read the paper, get a betting tip, hear about margate football club. For some men, that’s the only interaction they are going to get that day. The guy in Margate in his early 70’s, he had been there for eons. Really his barbershop was a kind of social service.
Katy: So are you going to do anything with the conversations you had?
Julia: I’m going to do something at Folkestone. I’ve been recording it all and typing it up and make a book called Barbershop at the end of it. It will just be a sequence of images and quotes.
Katy: Are you going to put the book back into the barbershop?
Julia: Definitely, also they get a credit on the film and I have just found a barbershop quartet who are going to sing a testimony to one of the barbershop songs and I’m going to film that.
Katy: So do you think your work has moved away from straight film making?
Julia: It was never just that.
Katy: So filmmaking is one strand of how you then invite people to your conversation.
Julia: Yes its just the starting point of the dialogue
Katy: So do you think film is particularly good way to get people to talk to you?
Julia: That’s just how I do it, its just a tool. It’s a means to be able to invite people into it.
Katy: That sounds really liberating actually, that you have used the film to then create another kind of practice.
Julia: Yes but there is another level to it, there’s lot of levels, and I feel sort of priviledged really, that I’ve been allowed to do it in the barber shop and people have opened up and confided in me.
Katy: Do you have an idea of where you would like to go next?
Julia: I thought had creative block and stasis got in a state where I hated myself and my work which is why I closed the gallery and moved to Margate. And then I thought I can’t do it anymore, and I went to a panel talk of Sonya Boyce was on the panel. I went up afterwards and said ‘I really liked what you said, can I ask your advice about a problem I’ve got, I’m stuck and I can’t produce anything’ and she said to me ‘ What would you do if you were running a marathon? would you get up in the morning and run 26 miles? I don’t think so.’ I stupidly said ‘ Yeah I probably would’
And she said ‘There lies your problem. You are thinking all this, just get up, get your camera out, fiddle around and have a cup of tea. And just do it, and then do a little bit more. ‘ And funnily enough soon enough it got to the stage where I was doing it without even realising I was doing it. The cut I did was terrible and I knew I could do better so I went back into the studio to edit it in final cut pro and then the cut came together and I cannot tell you the relief that I had. And then it came together from there because it gave me the confidence to get back in the saddle.
Katy: Then you decided to stay here and make that project, and you said you do know what’s happening next?
Julia: Yeah because I did a lot of research, I went to being a man festival and read a lot of books, and there isn’t a lot of academic theory about masculinity. And this guy in America, Michael Kimmel, wrote this book called ‘ Men’s lives in the 90’s’ and they are having their first conference in Turkey in September and if I can couch surf and easyjet I’m going to go. The being a man festival was fantastic, out of this world. Just hearing Men talking about their lives, their issues and confronts them.
Frank: Have you seen the book ‘Unwrapping masculinity’ by Sean Nixon. I did my dissertation in the 90’s on the fashion of violence with football casuals. It was quite interesting and came out at the same time as the real man thing.
Julia: yes, Robert Bligh and those go out into the woods and hug a tree.
Frank: You could also look at Christopher Breward, he’s the research director of the V and A I think. His writing, a lot of it is about masculinity, in regard to fashion but he’s done all of it from the 1880’s all the way through.
Julia: from Beau Brummel to…
Frank: yes all the way through. Whats your film?
Julia: Its called Clip Cut Gel.
Julia hands out cards and a bit of banter. Rough trade, Toy boy, Playboy.
Frank: I tell you else whats really interesting, but I only saw this video two weeks ago, this american rocker guy was really big and popular and he decided to do this sort of crawl on the floor and groan on stage and it totally killed his career, because men wouldn’t buy a rock record off a man who looked to be homosexual. So they are just 3 min films?
Julia: It’s a 3 minute film called Clip Cut Gel, and those images I’ve appropriated from men’s modelling hairdressing magazines called ‘Men’s Passion’ that came out in the 80’s, so real high production numbers for the trade, very glossy, high quality images printed in Japan. I collect all kinds of printed ephemera and I just had to have these. And I rephotographed those three characters and knew I was going to do something with that I just didn’t know what it was until I started researching around masculinity when it came to me. I was at this barber shop chatting to this guy and it all sort of came along.
Frank: Has it got soundtrack and a script?
Julia: yes, I wrote a script from interviewing men and the research that I did so I just distilled it all and boiled it all down to these three characters.
Frank: is it a critique?
Julia: It’s a celebration and a critique, you could take it either way.
Frank: is there a certain level of irony or sarcasm in there?
Julia: There is but there is also a level of honesty and openness because these men are sharing in a way that usually they don’t usually share.
Frank: I think its really interesting because I used to buy L’Homme Vogue in the 80’s which I used to get off my mate who was a male model who would buy them and then sell them on to me. But what was interesting was the time I would spend pouring over the images, but I never actually had the courage to go into a barber and say I want that look.
Katy: But isn’t it interesting because women have women’s magazines and its perfectly accepted behaviour in a hairdresser’s where you can say ‘I want that hairdo’ and its totally acceptable. But there is a certain thing about men’s image and about how men relate to that, I suppose..
Frank: I think the lexicon of the word grooming for a man is very troubled in a sense. If you admit to grooming then, you make a suggestion that you are perhaps not manly enough to just get up in the morning and go out. But if you don’t groom somehow you are not really, you know, I don’t know what you aren’t really.
Jo: I think its in a real state of change at the moment, from the last 20 years.
Frank: That’s why that Nixon book is interesting, because before Next came about, and its true actually, I remember looking at menswear shops in Sheffield and they were all traditional tailors. When Next came out, they casualised Men’s fashion. But that casualisation of men’s fashion also created a rethink about what it was to be a man in terms of grooming.
Julia: I think it was giving permission to men that they could actually do this and it was allowed, it’s a choice that you have. Whereas before, because it wasn’t really out there, it needed the kind of..
Frank: But it was, my dad would never dream of going out without his suit or his hair brylcreamed.
Jo: But the choice wasn’t there, in a way the expression was quite linear? or boxed.
Frank: Well, its quite funny this beard thing, like if you go into Shoreditch and beards are really really in BUT they are really really well groomed the good ones.
Julia: But there is a whole narrative around beards. There’s pre beard, peak beard and post beard. A journalist told me, he has a beard himself, he is gay and I was having a joke about beards he told me there was this narrative around it. Peak is the really long, fully fashion kind of sailor’s beard. Post is where you trim it all back to a growth that is just quite a beard.
Frank: Well I’ve done post all my life this is the first time I’ve not.
Katy: What do you mean post?
Frank: I would choose a shaver with attachment number 2 because I didn’t want a beard nor to be totally shaved.
Katy: I just wanted to ask you, how do you make your projects happen? Do you just do them or do you get funding or do you just do them?
Julia: I just do them, and depending on which direction it’s going, sometimes I get funding for it. I’ve got a couple of ACE applications in at the moment to hopefully move the Barbershop project on.
Katy: So to do the book?
Julia: I’ll do the book anyway, at the moment they are just online, but once I have to pull them out and start printing them, that’s when I have to pay for it.
Katy: Do you have a day job so you can do the stuff you want to do?
Julia: Yes well everything around that. But this is what my meat and drink is, if I didn’t do this I’d go mad.
Jo: Has it actually changed, in the last ten years, the availability of funding or is it fairly consistent?
Julia: I think its always difficult to get funding, because I had a career job before this I was used to writing proposals and doing projections. I hate doing it now, but then if you are asking for money you are asking for someone to invest in your project so you need to outline x, y and z. I would try and generally avoid it.
Katy: So you would rather do it completely off your own back?
Julia: Exactly, so you can do it exactly how you want to, you are not fettered by anything.
Katy: That is something we are really interested in, artists making something off their own back instead of being commissioned to do it.
Julia: I wouldn’t wait for that, I would just get on with it.
Jo: Do you think there is value in having another job? so you are separating the funding or would you in an ideal world just make art?
Julia: That takes priority anyway, my job takes the backseat. I always do stuff that isn’t intellectually draining or challenging that is going to take away my focus. I’ve learnt to cut my cloth, I have had no money and just earnt to cut my cloth in order to do my work.
Jo: That’s a really nice phrase.
Julia: I’d rather do it that way than have to rely on something.
Jo: What do you see about your relationship to place
? Do you enjoy working on your doorstep?
Julia: It just depends. It was really great for me at Resort Studios in Margate, and the barber shop I worked in there was literally around the corner. So Barry the barber plugged me into his network, his community, he was totally generous. And I felt totally more local, it gave me agency in the area that I was in. I felt more connected, more rooted. I had a better understanding of what was going on there because there is a lot of tension in the area between different communities.
Jo: I’m really fascinated about the way that artists arrive in places, I think we all are, and what right do we have to be in places.
Julia: I walked straight into his shop with my shopping trolley and said ‘ Hello, I’m Julia. Can I show you the project I am working on, I’ve actually got a studio around the corner and I would be really interested in working with you.’ And he watched the film and went ‘ Yeah, alright then’. And he got it.
Jo: And that was the first time you’d ever met?
Julia: Yeah, and he went ‘ Come back next Saturday’ and I ended up working for three months with him, one day a week.
Jo: And did you talk about what he got from it?
Julia: Oh yeah, it was really important that it was a two way street. And it enabled him to have a laugh and have another connection to people in the barber shop. It was a talking point, he was interested in my work and my motivation and why I was doing it aswell. We’ve got a friendship now.
Jo: Has it had an impact on the business for him?
Julia: I don’t know about that. But because he views the space, as I was saying earlier it was a lifeline for some people going there. Not necessarily for a haircut but they went in to shoot the breeze, he was getting people ringing up all the time getting tips for betting on the dogs, and he actually commentated about the local football team on the radio from the barber shop, it was just amazing. And he actually employed an apprentice, this young boy who clearly needed help, just to give him a little pocket money. He was just a really cool guy.
Katy: Its amazing the people that you meet when you do stuff like this. And the relationships you make. One of the things that is really interesting when you stay somewhere for long enough what you can find.
Julia: Yes you build up a relationship.
Katy: It’s sort of about staying put in a way. But do you think you are going to stay put in Margate for awhile.
Julia: Yeah, I’m going to stay. I went in again post project to just hang out with him and catch up and have a chat and he was like ‘Keep in touch, don’t go anywhere.’
Jo: That’s the great thing about being somewhere long term. Because you can maintain these relationships because quite often people or life forces you away on different projects. Do you consciously make an effort to maintain that?
Julia: Yeah, I like him, we have a laugh. He wants to engage and I want to engage with him. And of course once I do the book I’ll take it in for him. But I’ll never forget him, just that original first meeting was very special. He’s a very important bloke in that community where he is.
Jo: Where is the project going from here
Julia: It’s on my website, there is the book,etc.
Jo: Would you take it further, other exhibitions?
Julia: I am going to do a joint exhibition with someone else working on the subject of masculinity.
Jo: I suppose you have got the processes and different sorts of ideas and images, and then you have this totally different practice where the people you are working and engaging with are separate, and then you are taking it into this art world.
Julia: Well, there is a barber shop in London that I might be able to access and whats really interesting around the corner there is this welsh chapel, and they’ve got this male welsh choir that practice there, so hopefully I might be able to do something with them.
So it would be shown in the barber shop and maybe the gallery setting as well. But for this its not necessarily that important.
Katy: Do you think you see doing this kind of work as part of a public art practice? Do you have a way of describing it to people?
Julia: No. And when people say to me ‘ What do you do? are you an artist?’ I flinch at that, I don’t really know what to say to that.
Jo: But do you feel like an artist?
Julia: Some days I do and some days I don’t.
Jo: That seems quite common.
Katy: I think people have difficulty explaining this kind of practice. Everyone we have spoken to so far has a different approach. I suppose it’s a question of ‘Do you stay in the art world? Do you exhibit within these sorts of events? or do you just go completely off your own thing? and I think its important to be a part of these things because then you are reaching different kinds of audiences.
Julia: And I think so you meet other artists who are part of that eco system.
Jo: How would you describe yourself really simply now?
Julia: What now? today? I don’t know what to say really. I suppose I am a person who likes to create vivid pictorial essays. I couldn’t really think of anything else to say.
Katy: That’s beautiful. I think its also really difficult to define this kind of work. That’s the problem, that is why we are doing this in a way, because this kind of work is becoming more, well, more artists are doing it. But the term ‘public art’ doesn’t really work. The connotations are you make a sculpture in public, whereas if its about talking to people, putting things into spaces like a barber shop, it is a public dialogue, but where does it fit? And in a sense that is what this project is about, trying to work out what this kind of work is, and to create a map of artists doing this kind of practice and to share that with other people so it becomes more established.
Jack: Yeah but I think we are not trying to define it.
Katy: Well not necessarily to give it a terminology but to say ‘this exists.’
Jack: And to say at the moment this is what people are doing in this broad field as opposed to trying to get it down to 3 paragraphs on public art in the UK.
Jo: And these sorts of practices are so bespoke to situations and lives but they are happening all over. And to be able to gather it together and have it coexisting and just holding it is quite empowering.
Frank: It is very sort of situationist though isn’t it? Its about working in a specific environment with a particular geographical location, trying to sort of deconstruct it. Like you( Julia) are asking them to deconstruct the decisions they make and the processes they are doing.
Frank: Which is very different to public art. From my understanding, public art doesn’t engage with you in that manner.
Jack: This is part of what we are discovering as well. About what the public actually make of public art and how they define it. I would guess that public art would be defined more publicly as sculptures in a shopping centre or a permanent piece of work an artist has made for a town centre.
Julia: that would be the default definition.
Jo: But there were those four things that Cameron Cartiere talked about. Whether it was engaging with public, whether it takes place in public, whether it was publicly funded and there was another one. But its that wide.
Jack: Yes, but someone who works as a civil servant and commissions a piece of art for the city centre is still a member of the public. They aren’t non public.
Frank: But don’t you think that public art is a sign that points to something?
Frank: Whereas what you are talking about is your work is points directly at the viewer, directly and it asks the viewer questions. It’s not saying, this is Nelson Mandela, or this is where the black community arrived in Brixton, lets celebrate this. It’s actually saying, you have a haircut, whats it about? It’s a different kind of engagement
Jack: Well I think its terms of being about being publicly engaged instead of public art.
Julia: All of those terms are quite hideous.
Jo: Which is why most of us probably try and avoid to describe these things.
Julia: Definitely, because nothing fits.
Jack: you can say you are a painter and you paint this but to say you are a public artist, well it doesn’t really quite fit.
Jo: There is being a painter and being defined by your medium and having a line of enquiry.
Frank: it does seem to be quite narrative as well, its creating stories that aren’t fixed.
Jack: And thats sort of open ended and its not actually the final product, the product is the process really and capturing that is the work.
Jo: I like the way its democratic really. Like you don’t need to be Nelson Mandela status to be part of it.
Frank: In that way that is sort of educating, about telling someone about someone they didn’t know, and there is educating and you are asking the person directly what they may or may not know and they are expressing it.
Julia: I think it’s for what I am doing it’s the opposite, I’m being educated by them.
Frank: I suppose you are researching them for your practice, well, they are your practice.
Jack: Where is the art, that becomes the question….