Martin Gooding || July 2016
Stoke-on-Trent has many great artists working at every level, here's a little snap shot of how they see the city they live and work in...
Rachel Kennedy is a second year Ba Hons Fine Art student at Staffordshire University, she moved here to study from Birmingham.
What brings you to Stoke?
I got a good vibe when I came to visit the university here, the tutors all seemed great and I know a few people who had studied here previously and they strongly recommended it.
What impression have you had during your time here?
During my first year I focused mostly on the university side of things but during my second year I started to explore more about Stoke, Stokies are very into Oatcakes but it's also a very cultural place, in Birmingham everything moves so fast so you don't feel part of the changes, here each of the Six Towns are making their own personal changes and sticking to what's here and making improvements, which are a lot more noticeable. I Definitely see that there is a lot more Art stuff going on in the city, although at Uni it's easy to get caught up in the modules and miss all the good stuff going on. With things like B Arts and Pilgrims Pit they are bringing it more to life.
Do you think the cultural history of the city plays a part in that?
Yeah with Spode in the center of Stoke and things like Emma Bridgewater you're surrounded by all the potteries, Spode now contains contemporary artist studios, it adds meaning to the contemporary work coming from there.
What opportunities have you had since you came to Stoke?
I was given a university residency with Airspace where I got to put a show on alongside Leigh Clarke, I got to help hang his show as well as being given the opportunity to curate a student show next door. That turned into an opportunity to talk to B Arts and see what was going on there, I heard about SOTArt at Gallery 116 so I entered work into that which was accepted and I ended up helping with the social media for the exhibition. I think I helped give that more life and grab more people's attention. And then I got involved with the Cosmic show which is happening in Shelton that we are linking up with Spoken Word event Violent You. I'm just going with the flow at the minute.
Can you briefly explain your current practice?
I work with found objects, objects that are previously loved then I strip away all the cosmetic value of the object, you know the varnish all the stuff they put on there to make it pretty. I then drill into it and start to affect the wood, I'm doing a piece for the Cosmic show (now finished) that's a cupboard with flowers and wax and the genetic structures of plants to put some real life back into the objects.
What's next after you graduate?
We've had an idea to renovate an old store with a group of people that will be able to provide advice and guidance for people coming out of uni but I'm not sure, I want to do my masters I'm not sure whether that will be here or elsewhere, there's lots of stuff going on back in Birmingham but it's all so chaotic you don't get time to stop and look.
What is art?
Art is whatever your eye perceives Art to be.
Carl Wilson, is Stoke-on-Trent based artist with a disability, he has exhibited photographic works at various local galleries and has feature in many theatrical performances.
So Carl, What do you like about Stoke?
It's the home of the potteries, which is fantastic, all the pot banks are closed now, well not all of them but most of them. It's very important that Stoke has a long history of art.
Did you find it easy or difficult to become involved with the arts in Stoke-on-Trent?
Easy, because I live near B Arts, Pilgrim's Pit and Gallery 116, I am lucky because I live close but If I had to travel to Burslem there is a chance I might not find it.
Do you think people in Stoke-on-Trent are supportive for disabled artists?
Not all the time, we need more opportunities for people with disabilities in the arts.
If you could, as simply as possible, describe what "Art" is to you?
Interesting and fantastic, good for disabled people as well, make them more interested in the arts which can make them happier and more involved.
What type of projects of have you been involved in?
One project I want to talk about is the Lost Post Office, it was interesting with a great storyline and it was good for the kids, I did a puppet show as well as performing in it and helped make some of the set.
For the big feast, held by Appetite I was in the choir for Extraordinary Bodies, everyone in the show had different abilities, met some really good people. The choir got back together for the Christmas light switch on in Hanley.
I showed my photography at Airspace Gallery with Appetite, and at Paradise Now, I take photos that are about Stoke, landmarks such as the museum, statues of Stanley Matthew and Reginald Mitchell. I like taking photos of landmarks they remind me of the history of Stoke on Trent.
What projects have you got planned?
I want to do a project called "Doctor Carl" and make it into a good show, you know, like a pantomime, "He's behind you", it's funny and for the family, I want to make more people come to see shows, even more than we've had before. Doctor Carl is a Sci-Fi show, my Grandfather passed away and we had always talked about doing a Doctor Who style show and I have added ideas and changed it but kept Doctor Carl as the main character.
Also I'd like to do a play called "Tiggy the Tiger" this will be my biggest project yet, people will be dressed as animals, evil cats with three heads, princesses and villains.
I'm hoping to be an ambassador for appetite and I'd like to be an inspiration for artists with disabilities. And carry on working for B Arts and with as many arts companies in the city as possible and I've been practicing my rapping but there might be some strong language, I'm inspired by Will Smith & Exit Pupils.
Official Culture are a professional theatre group working and living in Stoke-on-Trent, they are made up of Laura Stacey and Natalie Bangs.
Can you tell us a little bit about Official Culture, who you are, where you're from and what you're all about?
We are two women trying to make performance. Whatever that is? Performance that explores politics; particularly the guise of capitalism and it's relationship to everyday life. Aesthetically we look at trying to, in Guy Debord's words, "rip the canvas": making everyday norms abnormal. We've created stuff from interventions on the street to performances in more conventional places. It all sounds very serious, but I suppose a lot of it, in the very making process and the actual performance, is based on us pissing around, too. Improvising, making ourselves look and sound ridiculous.
What influence has Stoke-on-Trent had on your current work?
Stoke is home. It's where we were brought up, and so it equally enthuses and angers us. The nostalgia and the cliché of wanting to do something where you were brought up and where you live, is very much present. I dunno, there's loads of influences really. I suppose from the am dram days to inspirational college lecturers, Friday nights at the mill and Stoke's crumbling walls. But it's been a bit of a struggle where you're still learning and failing and learning through failing. And you can't quite articulate what it is that you do in a place where it feels it very much needs to happen. I think sometimes people are scared of women speaking out and making political statements. We've been told in the past, on many occasion, that we're too political and you need to get rid of it in order to get anywhere. The sad thing is people misunderstand that the politics and the rants about it are at it's very core. Stoke-on-Trent, a place which has always been a place to fight for stuff, for injustices, the Chartist Movement, the Lidice Shall Live Campaign, Miners Strikes, the Joseph Wedgwood campaign to end slavery. Surely it's at the core?
What are the challenges of living as an artist in Stoke-on-Trent?
The challenges have been things like the many different roles that you take on in order to continue to make work. From stepping into everyday jobs as teachers, facilitators, working behind a bar, in call center etc. The constant flux of different jobs makes it difficult. I think we have a very active theatre scene, but think at the moment there is very little room for trying out alternative stuff, alternative ways of making performance. When a dialogue surrounding what we do does not exist, placing yourself in Stoke becomes difficult. Creating an understanding about what you do becomes difficult.
What are your opinions on the impending City of Culture bid?
Stoke-on-Trent has always been a city of culture, with a thriving heritage of making and creating, and we definitely support the idea of Stoke on Trent being firmly planted on the cultural map. Being awarded City of Culture in 2021 will indeed have huge benefits for Stoke-on-Trent, both culturally and economically. There are a lot of brilliant things happening in the creative scene and else where in Stoke at the moment which need to be celebrated. But being quite frank, we want Stoke's cultural activity to be more accessible, for opportunities to be more visible and to be more inclusive, to be for the people of Stoke, by the people of Stoke.
What role can theatre play in the future of Stoke-on-Trent?
Theatre and performance, we hope, will have a significant role within the future of Stoke-on-Trent: an alternative platform through which we can explore stuff, question the everyday shit that each and everyone of us Stokies experience. We want it to be a platform in Stoke to share ideas, thoughts, opinions, struggles and creatively capture them in something visible, something unapologetic, something tangible, something hilarious, something we can all relate to or learn from. Stoke already has a thriving music and art scene. But we do feel it lacks in alternative theatre and performance. A lot of cities already have a vibrant alternative performance scene, and many are aligning art with activism, something we're massively interested in. We just feel Stoke is a bit behind in this respect. Alternative performance makers of Stoke.. lets get a movement going! On that note, we should mention that Official Culture are hosting a night of political scratch performances on 4th July that respond directly to Austerity, in an attempt to unite alternative performance makers / writers / performers / directors.
I know it's annoying but If you can, describe what "Art" means to you?
Urgh. Yep. We hate this question. I suppose in it's basic sense, we see art as a broad realm where either individually, or collectively, you're expressing something that exists within your mind / the collective mind, which you feel needs to materialise into something tangible, or needs to be seen by others. Sometimes I suppose it can be pretty individualistic, and quite self indulgent. For us, its about the collective, its about sharing. Creating conversations, stirring up questions, making struggles visible. Lighting a few fuses in the minds of others that perhaps may not have been explored before. That sounds quite pretentious, like we're experts who will enlighten the masses. Ha. I suppose we just mean that when people see us doing our 'art' we hope that it might spark something or change something in their heads.