5AM Artist Profiles
The five artists undertook a workshop with the writer Philip Hoare to develop themes for collaborative approaches to working. Philip developed this piece of writing from the workshop:
Five Artist Makers
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
John Clare, ‘The Mores’
‘Tis a gift to be simple’
Ann Lee, Mother of the Shakers
Hampshire is not the safe Home County you might suppose it to be. It is a land marked by its human occupation, from Neolithic port to royal forest created out of the appropriation of common land, its green, fertile and apparently timeless placidity disguises centuries of change. Most importantly, it underwent an insidious revolution in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century with the implementation of the acts of inclosure, or enclosure. The common land once mutually exploited by the people was now privatised. It was an event that changed the way southern England looked in the same way that the industrial revolution changed the Midlands and the North.
The sense of holistic, consensus use of the land was forever gone. That sense of loss, protested at the time by the poet John Clare, is felt ever more acutely now, in our age of unremitting progress. We feel we have to race to overtake our own selves. We are defined by what we buy, rather than by what we make, or produce. We appear to be passive consumers, whose tastes are dictated to, rather than people who exert discretion and cherish the work of our hands.
Here in Hampshire, we have ever been subjected to the forces of trade, import and export: of what we have produced and sent out to the world, and what we received in turn – whether goods, people, or ideas. Now Southampton Water, the great channel that reaches into this central southern county – and thus into the heart of England – carries daily container ships filled with goods from foreign markets, things with little sense of beauty or making about them, and which we must ultimately dispose of once they have outlived their use – which may be little more than twelve months.
Yet at the same time, there are traditions maintained in Hampshire, of creation and making, which are not just anachronistic expressions. Now five artist makers, all based in the county – Esther Coombs, Nicola Henshaw, Alice Kettle, Syann van Niftrik and Claire Vine – have rallied to this cause. Their work stands out against the mass-produced and the disposable. Their materials are of the land, and inspired by it; by the modern contrasts of life in the twenty-first century, yet using techniques which might be a millennium old. They aspire to the utopian ideals of groups such as the Shakers, who saw the value of things as lying in their sense of intrinsic beauty, as well as practical usefulness. Gathered together, united by the products of their imagination and their hands, these five women with their disparate talents have formed a new collective. Its aims are to reinvent the sense of craft as art, and to explore the liminal region between these two sensibilities.
To do so, they intend to undertake a series of ambitious site-specific projects, in which the five artists will respond to key historical sites in Hampshire, from stately homes to twentieth-century factories. Employing all their talents, and working co-operative as a loose alliance, they intend to pass from hand to hand the results of this unique collaboration, and in the process redefine the notion of craft and art in a rural setting.
They will not ignore the modern world, and its pressures and limitations. In an age when time has become the most precious commodity of all – and especially in a period of worldwide insecurity – they look back to the traditions and values of making. Not in a nostalgic manner, but with the aim of reasserting the satisfaction of the hand-made and the naturally-sourced, often from their own county: the wood or precious metal or canvas, forged or knitted or sewn or drawn; a sense of human creativity which, they hope, will come as an analogue antidote to a digital era whose artistic expression is increasingly removed from the mark of the human hand.
They will use historical and cultural references to recreate that lost sensibility, from the notion of a rural Arcadia to the records of rural reality; from the natural world to the constructed environment; from the exquisite to the mythical; and yet incorporate the images and meanings of our present. In their truth to materials they evoke the work of past artistic collectives – from the pre-Raphaelites to the Omega workshops, from the Shakers to the Bauhaus. In a quiet, understated, yet determined manner of their own, they intend to create a new, unenclosed explosion of talent here in the depths of Hampshire.
© Philip Hoare