Nicola Winstanley

Sean Dissington || 6th April

I read a book once (not a huge achievement granted) called “Insanely Great” It charts the story of Apple computer, from the late seventies to their near collapse in the mid­nineties. ­ Those who are interested in corporate history or didn’t know that the world's’ favourite phone company didn’t always vomit money might find it a good read. Anyway, one quote that has always stuck with me is one attributed to Steve Jobs, which reads “we’re here to put a dent in the universe”

I like that as a concept. As a human, and daresay it a creative one, I like the idea that something I’ve done might have changed the way someone perceives the world,­ that it’s made them think or act differently. I think in many ways that’s what a lot of artists are trying to do, not that I’m saying that artists are all narcissists,­ but you want to know that the work you put out has meaning to people and is accessible in some way. Stoke is lucky to have as many artists as it does, and I’ve recently seen some of the creative work of Nicola Winstanley. Nicola, part of creative partnership Winstanley­Nadin, and an artist in her own right has done a lot of work on place perception, and the exploration of what art means to society as a whole and to the city specifically.

One of her latest projects has been her artist residency at the Acava studios at Spode, exploring the impact that those in the creative sector have. I attended the exhibition of her residency work and found it utterly fascinating. The main feature on entering was the social media wall, the representation of the input of @SOTAAW, the hashtag day that Nicola held encouraging local artists to document their work hour by hour. It was intriguing, viewing artists boarding planes, doing taxes, washing up, feeding the kids, taking the cat out of where it had got stuck this time, and even doing art. It illustrated the fact that artists spend less time thinking about the state of the work on a velvet chaise longue whilst in a laudanum induced haze than you might think (more’s the pity) ­and that most of us do surprisingly normal things.

Walking around the exhibition there were screen prints, plans of the site and Stoke town, etchings and some stunning photographic experiments taken on a holga, playing with double exposure and cross­processing. They made for a playful view of the site, with vibrant colours and perspectives that we seldom experience. Yet in some there was almost a melancholy as you look at the site of such productivity as a derelict, almost abstract site.

One of the questions that was asked as “What would happen if all the creatives and artists suddenly left Stoke tomorrow?” ­ this question wasn’t answered unfortunately, at least not explicitly. Certainly there would not be the ‘ghost town’ that I remember as a child growing up in the city when all the pot bank workers would take their holidays over two weeks in the summer. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a difference at all for a day or two? Perhaps there would be a little less colour, less energy, less hope? Creativity is like an engine for this city, creativity and bottomless resilience¬ and much of that comes from our creative sector who look around them and say “let’s just get on with it.”

The exhibition of her residency was a fine demonstration of talent, but it’s not all that Nicola Winstanley is bringing to the city. I recently attended one of her “Matchmaker” sessions at the Wedgwood institute, Burslem. The purpose of matchmaker is to connect artists and those interested in the sector with those who can help them. Need a photographer? Business advice? There’s likely to be someone there who can help, sponsored by Wavemaker ­ the Hanley based maker space and digital creativity hub, Matchmaker is seeking to created a maker map of the city. This will be a free, searchable online resource that will connect makers and enablers together, allowing creative people to keep their money in the city and to help each other grow as professionals.

Many in the city will be familiar with a project that she worked on with Sarah Nadin, Unearthed. Commissioned by the council to remember Lidice and the role that the miners of Stoke­-on-­Trent played in its rebuilding it sits outside the bus station on Lidice way, behind the Victoria Hall. It’s a fascinating piece, so I won’t give any spoilers here, but if you’re on a trip to town it’s worth spending some time with.

In summary, ­ Nicola Winstanley is an artist to watch, she has the passion and talent to create excellent work, and the humility that makes you warm to the content she puts out ­ that and her efforts to contribute to, and document the story of Stoke’s creative sector mean that there is bound to be a lot of interesting work from her yet to come.