Lancaster Arts Curator, Miranda Stearn, looks back on Jacuzzi Conversations, a week-long residency at the Peter Scott Gallery, talking to artists Jez Dolan and Garth Gratrix about what made the experience distinctive for them and what they hope comes next. Emerging ideas during the residency were shared in an earlier blog: Jacuzzi Conversations.
In late 2022, Garth and Jez spent a week together within the exhibition, ‘A matter of age?’, having conversations with one another and with visitors as they generated ideas for a joint project with Lancaster Arts in 2023 on the theme of Ritual, from their perspectives as Queer artists. The gallery was transformed by the addition of a hot tub which provided a venue for the conversations.
At Lancaster Arts, we are interested in how we can work together to create the conditions for ideas to flow and be exchanged, and for creative thinking to occur. We asked the artists what conditions enabled the flow of ideas:
‘The setting of the gallery and the current exhibition gave us an excellent space in which to develop ideas. Drifting in and out of the individual artworks was hugely positive. The fact that we consistently spent time with members of the team discussing our thinking and process, …. was really enlightening. Although our approach was playful it also felt that it (and we) were being treated seriously.’ (Jez)
The importance of care, play and experimentation emerged particularly strongly in terms of the environment the artists sought to create:
‘Jez and I embedded some simple conditions around care - what we individually needed as well as collaboratively. Moments of reading to one another whilst walking, moments of Jez practising the double bass whilst I colour matched the collections on display to DIY paint swatches as a way to test queering material and imbuing humour and a sense of randomness into the environment. These little acts felt like they were enabling us to slowly breakdown the space in its possibility as opposed to the perceptions a gallery can often hold. A formal frolic whilst observing each other’s care levels feels like a good analogy.’ (Garth)
Collaboration was a vital aspect pf the residency, and both artists reflected on the fact that their existing relationship, combined with the supportive, playful environment created in the gallery, meant that the time they spent together was particularly powerful:
‘It was our first real residency together. Although we have worked together many times, one of us has been in the position of commissioner or curator for the other. This felt like something else, a new perspective and fresh beginning aligned with a desire to collaborate on ideas and aesthetics together moving forwards.
As artists we enjoy collaboration, so bring a quiet confidence in seeing such processes into fruition for mutual benefit. The Lancaster Arts Team again understood how to hold space for experimentation and play whilst doing a lot of behind the scenes condition-checking and environmental review of the space before we dropped a heated jacuzzi in the gallery. Many others simply wouldn’t have gone to the effort it can take for play and rest to be maintained.’ (Garth)
‘Garth is someone who I feel incredibly close to both as an artist and as a friend, hey let’s go further and use the word LOVE, so as such the process held the uniqueness and closeness of our relationship… The Lancaster Arts team all felt that they had a level of personal investment in our processes and that they were willing us forward in terms of creating something in the space. I felt like a rather honoured guest.’ (Jez)
The residency was unusual for us at Lancaster Arts as it took place in the public space of the gallery, and the artists invited conversations with anyone who wanted to engage. We asked the artists about how they felt this worked:
‘This did feel though as we – Garth, myself and the team were all able to devote time to speaking to people about the project / our process in a meaningful and thoughtful manner and these quiet gentle discussions were essential to our progress.’ (Jez)
‘The week felt care-filled rather than care-free. Lancaster Arts were constantly being considered in who and in what ways we were engaging collectively in the thinking that the residency was generating. We felt this led to some really dynamic and though-provoking ideas shared between us as artists, between us as a wider collaborative team and our dialogue with students across artforms to explore the role of the gallery, what rest and ritual is and could look like.
The team communicated really well with all visitors that came into the space and made gentle but clear introductions to us as artists in residence. We feel we created an environment that felt relaxing and without pressure, to simply converse about creativity and then explore what actions might look like to turn creativity into actions and outcomes.’ (Garth)
In terms of next steps, everyone was surprised by how far the artists were able to take their thinking within the week, and at moments we had to navigate tension between exploring open-ended possibilities and getting excited about specific ideas. Some key questions emerged to shape the project going forward:
‘Our ongoing questions that linger still today are “How do you create a Queer ritual...?” & ''What gestures, words, actions and objects are used and in what set sequence, if any...?”. This exists out of conversation and challenge from visitors and forms the foundation of what we are now working towards creating. How do we generate an environment (or installation) that offers an arena in which a ritual could play out, without then establishing or prescribing a set ritual?’ (Garth)
‘I am interested in how we might make artworks / objects which can become the background, or the form around which ritual(s) can be made, enacted and/or developed. Working in the space for the week has made me think a lot about how we can significantly transform the space so that visitors really have to re-calibrate their ideas and assumptions about where they are and what the purpose / meaning of the space and its contents might mean to them.’ (Jez)
And what did the jacuzzi bring to the process?
‘Having the jacuzzi set up in the space felt a bit like a (slightly silly, and somewhat ludicrous) triumph! Also whilst not unknown, I have never spent time almost-naked in an art gallery context before. Presenting my own body as a part of the artwork / process / discussion / performance ended up feeling really comfortable, and made me think a lot about how we might view (specifically queer, ageing bodies) in the future, certainly in the next iteration of this project.’ (Jez)
‘An invitation to be risky and risque can be rare within institutional, educational and collections orientated spaces. We understand the needs for these spaces to be monitored and controlled environments. To be able to play as queer people feels necessary and to be supported to explore mutual benefit in how the structure of the residency developed, was essential to navigating its purpose - of rest, of reimagination and of how we can generate ideas, rather than how we should do things as currently understood methods.
People's openness and sharing ideas, but personal stories as well. I feel the jacuzzi reduced the sensation that the conversation has to be anything beyond social. As a symbol of rest and play, the jacuzzi did its job in relaxing people’s minds and bodies into a level of authentic chat.’ (Garth)
Over the coming months, Lancaster arts will work with Jez and Garth to develop ideas for autumn 2023 – so watch this space to find out more about ways of getting involved.