Talking Production

A write up of Talking Production, 29 June 2015 at Eastside Projects by Anneka French.

Introduction by Ruth Claxton – Artist and Eastside Projects

The context for discussions is shaped by Ruth’s interest in generating an infrastructure for production in Birmingham. She is working on 3 projects centred around this aim:

  1. Birmingham Production Space – a proposal for a multidisciplinary national centre in the city. This is an ambitious long term and large scale plan.
  2. Workshop Birmingham – a new Arts Council funded project which aims to map Birmingham’s manufacturers and turn them into a ‘faculty’ to offer master classes, workshops and go-see trips. She and Sean O’Keeffe are also working with Make Works to produce a pilot online directory of manufacturers, processes and workshops in Birmingham. Workshop Birmingham will launch in late 2015.
  3. Production Show at Eastside Projects – a two year programme of activity which see the gallery and the city actively transformed into a space of production.


Samara Scott – Artist

Samara is currently exhibiting at Eastside Projects. She is interested in popular culture, particularly its superficiality and narcissism, and is aware she is both commentator and participant in this. Samara feels that making is about experience and interior experience, and that as reality is ‘slippy’, so her research is un-plotted and formed of compulsive, guilty and confessional responses to reality.

The themes she explores include superimposition. She relates this to layers and intensities of experience that are commodified in pleasure and leisure industries. She feels dizzy in the world, caught in gaps between impressions of the synthetic and the real. This is connected to bodily experience, and the frailty of materials and bodies. Samara describes products as packages of information and listed some of the materials in the current work – gift wrap, hair gel, avocado stones – which are actively selected rather than ‘found’. She considers them paintings.

Terming her practice ‘trashy sorcery’, the materials she selects are theatrical, nostalgic and clichéd. They transmit flavours. Samara connects this to digital profiles built of consumers’ purchases. These form characters or scripts for her work – a wedding caterer, Martha Stewart mum, crack bin dweller. Products screech at her or whisper to her. There is a sense of hyper-stimulation.

Her studio is catastrophic, apocalyptic and swollen with collected debris.  Like abstract expressionism, things are flung together. Matter is always at the centre of the work. Her studio can be anywhere. She binge makes, things pollute each other and there are chance encounters as things rub up against each other. The work evolves materially. Liquids evaporate and she has little control – liquids become scum and sediment. Her work is ‘toxic positivity’ and ‘spoofy land art’. Samara likes to write about her work – its language is fizzy, vibrating, acrobatic and unresolved. The more she makes, the less control she finds, the more she thinks and things spiral. Liquid is sexy in a revolting way, is invested in being alive and reproducing. Liquid is imitated digitally. Her practice spores.

Eleanor Morgan and Guan Lee – Grymsdyke Farm

Grymsdyke Farm is located in Lacey Green, near High Wycombe. Architect-trained Guan purchased the 19th century farmhouse and stables in 2004. The project fed into his PhD research into casting methods and early photography. As the workshop was developed and a CNC machine introduced, Grymsdyke offered cutting services for architects and designers. They started student workshop sessions five years ago, for example, slip casting with digitally made moulds.

The Clay Robotics Project is a practice-based research collaboration with Eleanor, an artist interested in materials and making across species. She is working on research with spider silk and glass sponges. The Clay Robotics project uses the clay soil of the farm paddock and a robotic arm sourced nearby to bring together architects, archaeologists and others in a cross-disciplinary process. The robotic arm has been programmed to dispense clay. There are problems with the material and with the robotics: the research is about working with limitations and much of the research is still to be resolved. Working with local materials and communities is important. Grymsdyke have recently built a music room structure for a local school which will be covered with clay roof tiles.

Eastside Projects’ Extra Special People held a weekend away there in February 2015, the first group of artists to explore the facility. Sessions included cob mixing, an old and ‘smart’ method of making, and clay throwing, both with expert tutors. There was no expectation of a finished product and the weekend was designed to offer skills exchange, provide support and feedback to artists, and be a space for open experimentation individually and as a group. Grymsdyke can offer accommodation for up to 16 people and host 1 or 2 student residencies at any one time.

Fran Edgerley – Assemble

Assemble consider production in relation to a city and in enabling individuals to be involved in productive activity. They are a non-hierarchical group of 18 people and their work stems from wanting to work architecturally in a more meaningful way. Projects include a petrol station which has been converted into a cinema called The Cineroleum, Clerkenwell Road, London. The labour was broken into repetitive tasks that passers-by could participate in. Tyvek panels formed curtains that separated the cinema audience from the surrounding site.

Assemble have been based at Sugarhouse Studios, Stratford, for 4 years, located close to the Olympic Park on a large development plot with a lack of amenities. Wanting to engage with the local community, they operated a pizzeria on site for a time. Assemble are currently focussed less on events than on creative spaces. One building on the empty site (due to phased development) is a cheaply constructed structure with 8 bays on each floor rented.

The Blackhorse Workshop, Walthamstow, offers a civic and leisure space, with a café and space for workshops used by artists/designers and people with DIY projects. The upper floor is rented studio space which makes the building financially viable. The project has utopian ideals in terms of access but there is a skills gap between professional and amateur producers on site. Assemble are looking into mentoring to support less experienced workshop users.

The Baltic Street adventure playground in Glasgow addresses a site of large-scale demolition and ‘bleakness’ near to communities, providing a space for children to construct, be in control and play. This is child-led and references a project in Berlin in which children re-build their playground every year and have a freedom to produce.

The Cairns Street project in Toxteth, Liverpool looked to refurbish and save a group of derelict terraces from demolition by instilling a sense of ownership and empowerment to the local community. Mantelpieces and other items were made from recycled materials to furnish the homes. Assemble hope to establish longer-term projects there and are 2015 Turner Prize nominees.

Assemble function most effectively when lots of members work on one project together. This is not always economically viable. Project buddies and dinners offer spaces to discuss work informally.

Linda Brothwell – Artist

Linda’s research, informed by her background as a jewellery maker, includes both making and the making of tools. The latter connects people to heritage and place. Her ‘Acts of Care: The Sheffield Edition’ was made for the Jerwood Makers Open in 2013 and sited at Portland Works, Sheffield, where stainless steel was discovered and production still occurs. Linda inserted hand-forged steel shims into the ‘dead’ spaces of the building. The polished bars are scored with teeth on their end. The tools Linda makes are all usable and carry marks which denote the set to which they belong, like a maker’s mark. The tools (hammers, files, saws) are made perfectly for each job and bring forward the research and skills that underpin her practice. Linda is interested in the role of women in industry, as file cutting was traditionally done by women and children as piece work by hand. The project comprised 60 shims as inventions, the tools made and a publication of documentation.

‘Acts of Care: The Lost Letters of Liverpool’ is part of a current exhibition at FACT and researches missing letters from the signs of shops and other buildings. Linda has developed new replacement designs based on Polish paper cutting techniques translated into decorative hand-pierced and hand-chased brass letters. She had to develop particular saws and other tools to make these. The project touches upon a traditional craft of Liverpool’s large Polish community and its history of ship building, engaging with tactile senses and memories.

The display of the tools is sometimes problematic for her. Linda wants visitors to be able to activate and touch them. In production there is a lot of trial and error. She is making specific tools as they do not already exist: ‘To make and use tools enables us to make and remake the world around us’. Her hands contain knowledge that she trusts.

Fi Scott – Make Works

Make Works is not for profit factory finding service in Scotland for designers and makers. Web users can search by tool, machine, manufacturing method or object. They have 2 members of staff and were originally funded by Creative Scotland and Jerwood.

Fi visits and researches all the manufacturers listed, producing (free) photographs and 90 second films on each for the site. She wants to show people that very high quality manufacturing methods are often on people’s doorsteps and that these have expert knowledge that can be used. Fi gave examples of excellent tanneries, jewellers and French polishers, and sited the problems of small manufacturers under threat. A large part of the work is about building relationships, to show makers that there are no barriers to access.  Make Works are keen to provide a photograph of the main contact at each company. Fi also stressed the need to not judge a company by their website- often the worse the website, the better the maker.

Make Works hold events such as maker speed dating nights with 20 manufacturers and artists/designers, and pecha kucha nights where fabricators speak. They are also looking at residency programmes to embed artists/designers in factories and provide bus trips to factories. Fi gave examples of manufacturers collaborating on new lines together.

Remaining small and local is key to Make Works’ ethos. It has taken time to build the trust of the manufacturers. There is a waiting list for factories to be listed as companies see their competitors on the site. Free listings mean that Fi can verify the quality of the manufacturer and determine the content of the listings. They have 8000-9000 users a week.

Nicolas Deshayes – Artist

Nicolas studied in the sculpture department of the RCA where, he felt, there was a focus on form over ideas. Work he made there explored the assumption of different roles such as food photographer. He became interested in vacuum forming as an analogue process comprised of sheets of plastic made liquid and then into skins covering tools. This is explored in relation to public spaces, bodies, ergonomics and art history.

Nicolas has a reciprocal arrangement with a factory in Finchley where he pays to work with their equipment before hours. They are open to his experiments as they feed into their own material research. Nicolas takes pleasure in using and tampering with processes such as zinc passivation and anodizing – he has worked with a firm in Lancashire who specialise in anodizing and manufacture objects such as deep sea turbine cogs, dentist spit trays and pizza trays; an archive of objects which feeds back into his work.

His work ‘Soho Fats’ explored the material qualities of polystyrene as a product derived from crude oil. Working with a hot wire cutter has produced an object that looks 3D rendered. He developed an exhibition at S1 arts space based on crude oil and the collection of Leeds City Art Gallery. Nicolas has also been working with vitreous enamelling with a company on the Isle of Wight that produces enamelled signs for the London Underground. The versatility of this process and the luscious finish are attractive.

Most recently the artist has been researching extruded ceramic pipes, and the connections that might be made with cisterns and the body’s own pipework, working with a manufacturer of clay sewage pipes in Yorkshire. There has been no set up for individuals in this factory so Nicolas is working around their timetable. He noted that many of these processes work with very high temperatures and described this as giving the materials a momentary heartbeat.

Q&A and Discussion

Discussions began with the topic of ethics and manufacturing. Ruth stressed that the choice of speakers was shaped by their interest in production in relation to collaborations and relationships. Issues of consumption and the framing of craft practices were discussed, along with some of the therapeutic benefits of making. Nicolas gave examples of the value of artists to manufacturers, allowing them to extend their range for example. Samara discussed perceived gaps between designing and making. She described her approach to this as a ‘clumsy’ one.

The timing of these conversations was questioned: why are we having these discussions now? This is connected to time, labour, speed, and the ways that objects accumulate value. Linda stressed that we should not be afraid to use our hands and that making has made her more conscious of the kinds of things she purchases too.

The role of CAD and digital skills were discussed. The merits of various software were debated but Guan was keen to say that these are not always freeing but require the designer to work within limitations. Moving beyond software into scripting requires complex abstract mathematics.

The role of education and the decline in practical skills being taught was raised. What might equip the artists of the future? Foreign languages and the ability to talk to businesses? Artists also require opportunities to fail and learn and risks must be taken. Samara related this to her own restlessness and curiosity. Skills with material processes are important but also limiting – a skill is difficult to unlearn. The importance of self-training was stressed, along with the continual accumulation knowledge and skills that are vital to artist development post-art school.

Published by Turning Point West Midlands, July 2015