Oona Grimes, an artistic talent, inspiration and friend…

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I first came across Oona’s work in 2003 when reviewing a four-strong all women show for Contemporary, entitled ‘Uncanny Tales’. The exhibition launched in Arnhem (NL), at De Buytensael. Showing alongside Paula Rego, Ana Maria Pacheco and artist Macelle Hanselaar, Oona was in good company.

I would have been in my early 20s, so likely feeling pretty nervous setting off on my own, not knowing quite what to expect and not knowing anyone at the other end other than Marcelle whom i’d been lucky enough to meet on studio visits in London. However, little did I know that the overwhelming warmth of Oona Grimes would be there to greet me, to settle me down, and aid with focusing on the job in hand. Both Oona herself and her work instantly caught my attention, and created a lasting impression.

Some years passed, and then a way down the line I found myself in contact with Danielle Arnaud, visiting the Tatton Biennial and once again finding myself in the presence of Oona’s work. Like Oona herself, her work is instantly engaging, refreshingly honest and unpretentious, playful, whilst being equally complex in its many layers and reference points. Above all it is compellingly human.

Although the inspiration for Tall Tales came from two artists’ whose works aren’t exhibition as part of the touring exhibition, Sophie Calle and Yayoi Kusama, I can honestly say that when starting to discuss the artist selection for Tall Tales with Co-Curator Elizabeth Wewiora, Oona was at the top of the list. Her practice for me, in part, informed other decisions to come. Having first experienced Oona’s work in the home of Dutch gallerists Hank Gulickx Burg and Harry Burg Gulickx, where Freud’s heimlich (homely) and unheilich (unhomely) permeated, it felt fitting to be able to introduce it to the Freud Museum and Freud family home in particular.

In London Oona presented a range of work, installed and making interventions right across the Freud Museum, – exhibition space, Anna Freud’s room, hallway and in and around the famed Freud desk and couch housed in Sigmund Freud’s study.

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The exhibition space at the Freud Museum, and Anna Freud’s room played host to Oona’s recent work, including a three double page spread from Flanns Architectural Digest– a series of 18 hand cut stencil drawings sprayed onto black paper, emulating analogue film, as well as a series of directly related book works. The brightly coloured imagery in the larger-scale works and book works are set off against a deep field of black. This creates the illusion of three-dimensionality, digital pixellation and surface. The body of work began as a book of protective spells: a plundering of Swedenbourg, Flann O’Brien and The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Characters fence their way through an illusionistic portrayal of architecture and the creatures that haunt the facades and hoarding boards, the film & theatre flats. Oona, in a recent blog for Big Issue North, speaks of these works as so,
ART Tintype. Oona Grimes. Flann's Architectural Digest 6. 2015 -2
Pogoing off Freuds theory of screen memories and my mis-memories of a childhood summer on the set of John Hustons Freud: The Secret Passion, cocktail shaken with my love of Flann OBriens badly behaved language, the drawings are in conversation with a tribe of clay things.’
Oona’s Clay Things found their way into some of the most impossible spaces of the museum, including a choir of potatoes that infiltrated Freud’s desk and toes ntoast that found their way into Freud’s collection of Egyptian sculptures and the study’s bookshelves. Her works in clay are predominantly based on simple shapes which explore the most basic of ceramic processes, speaking directly to the work of others exhibiting as part of Tall Tales, for example Sarah Forrest and her video piece The Pot or Laure Provoust’s Wantee Fountain. Shown alongside Oona’s drawings, her Clay Things are a celebration of the absurd and an ongoing series of parallel worlds, cerebral pieces yet grounded in their materiality and the process of making.

To our delight Oona and her work made themselves at home at the Freud Museum. Following tradition, where Oona likes to spend time with and in an exhibition, at the Freud Museum she hosted John Huston’s film set Sundays. Creating a facsimile of the original film script for Huston’s biopic, Freud: The Secret Passion and asking Nick James, editor of Sight & Sound, to write a review as if it was a new release, this, a reproduction of the poster and Oona herself spent many Sundays ‘on the couch’ talking to visitors to the museum over the exhibition period.

Of her time in London, Oona writes,‘I loved the unexpected conversations with invited artists, visiting psychoanalysts, tourists and school children, kind of pinging off the work but not aimed at it directly.’

Not wanting to break tradition, Oona has spent an extended period in Rochdale installing her work and into the opening weekend. She has become literally part of the tour and integral to making Tall Tales what it is. Her works feel and look very different in the larger and more formal museum and galleries of Touchstones Rochdale, gaining a new life, whilst creating the same level of intrigue and mischief as in London.

It is no surprise that in Oona’s Big Issue North blog she writes,

The best bits are the practical bits the amazing new friendships with the gallery staff, the installers, cleaners, curators, the other artists. How to get in early, negotiate transport, and where to get the best coffee.’ …

Oona herself is full of stories. She, like her work, makes connections, brings them, and people together, everywhere they and she goes. Although not directly biographical, multiple fictions being at play in her work, Oona’s practice clearly draws upon her life experiences, people and conversation.

I get the impression Oona is a first hand girl, a people person, a let me look at you and see the whites of your eyes person. I like that. She is concerned with life and death, and everything in between, the ‘human condition’. Quoting her again, perhaps this sums things up, ‘

The drawings are an investigation into language, beginnings & ends of it, learning & losing it. Clay is the in-between bit – the instinctive making-ness that fills in the gaps. I find I cannot name the clay things in the way I name my drawings. ‘Must a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully. ‘Of course it must,’ Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: ‘my name means the shape I am and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.

I imagine the sparks will fly and magical connections will be made when Oona arrives in Glasgow. I anticipate when she gets together with the team at Glasgow Women’s Library and the many amazing characters running the show there, conversation will flow, as also likely will tea. We are certainly experiencing the pleasure of working with an incredibly talented and dedicated artist, and myself, the Tall Tales team, artists, venues and partners have all gained a collaborator and friend!

Helen Wewiora, Tall Tales Curator

Image credits: Top Image: A Choir of Potatoes, Oona Grimes (2014)
Middle image: A Choir of Potatoes, Installed on Freud Museum Desk for Tall Tales exhibition at Freud Museum Lonond, Oona Grimes , photo by Elizabeth Wewiora(2016)
Bottom Image: Flan’s Architectural Digest No.6, Oona Grimes (2015)
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Tall Tales discovering more at National Arts in Libraries Symposium

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A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Leeds to represent Tall Tales at the National Arts in Libraries Symposium at Leeds Central Library. Delegates gathered within Room 700, a new multi-arts space positioned in between the music and arts library. The day begins with an inspirational quote directed at a room full of employees of local authority libraries.

‘Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities’. R. David Lankes

The symposium coincided with the announcement of a new investment strategy specifically for libraries in the arts council funding. A helpful advice session was delivered in the lunch break for those wanting to find out more from the arts council representatives.

To find out more about the grants programme you can click here.

The conference sets out different examples of when libraries have brought innovative art in to their buildings. Inspiring libraries to encourage a new audience to enter their doors whilst not isolating their traditional library visitors. Throughout the day we were encouraged to split in to smaller sessions to hear about the people involved’ different experiences of doing so, highlighting the difficulties as well as their successes.

Buffalo and Purple Patch Arts – Under Milkwood

Click here to see a video of Under Milkwood.

This was a multi sensory immersive installation responding to the poetry of Dylan Thomas within Room 700 at Leeds Library. Buffalo arts were commissioned by Yorkshire based, Purple Patch Arts who work to improve the lives and life chances of people with learning disabilities.

What I particularly took away from this session was how employees of the library have to be considered as part of the engaging audience. The exhibit worked really well not just for its artistic merit and ability to bring multi-sensory experiences to a wider audience but also to create a calming haven in the library that inspires the staff and encourages them to want to spend their lunch breaks in.

Manchester Libraries and Brighter Sound

Click here for more information on Echo Trace

This project showed how by working with new and innovative delivery partners, libraries could support artists, providing them with a unique platform to explore their resources. To coincide with the re-opening of Manchester Central Library Brighter Sounds coordinated a programme of residencies, showcases, workshops and gigs entitled ‘Chaos to Order’. A highlight was working with the indie band EverythingEverything who ‘were keen to connect with the library staff ‘ and were enthralled by exploring the different areas of the historic building. All involved were quick to explain to the workshops audience that the ‘Echo Trace’ element of the programme included the involvement of branch libraries in Greater Manchester.

St Helens Council and Re-Dock 

Click here for more information about Northern Powerhouse 2065

I really enjoyed the Doing Digital Arts in Libraries session, in part because such an enthusiastic workshop leader, Owen Hutchings from St Helens Council, delivered it. Who, from the beginning explained that if a library brings digital art in to their libraries with the sole aim to get people to use their computers more they will set themselves up to fail. Owen went on to give examples of projects which have taken place to date but the majority of the session was taken up with a ‘give it a go’ section getting the audience to play with the simple digital and analogue arts technologies used in their projects. Neil Winterburn, who works with Re-Dock, showed us how to build a basic kinetic robot. The other group was led by Hwa Young Jun played with the online text adventure game Northern Powerhouse 2065. Developed with FACT Liverpool, it explores a dystopian scenario created by young people from Hull, Burnley and Wigan.

Coming to the conference from the perspective of someone working on an arts project in a library rather than an employee from the library itself, I found it enlightening to see Tall Tales projects such as Call for Cloth in a new light. ‘Authentic engagement’ with library staff was an issue that kept being brought up as a possible problem when bringing new art forms in to library spaces. But that ‘ownership and consultation’ are key to positively changing this. Involving library staff from the beginning, utilizing their expert knowledge of their communities and resources can really improve an art works reception. I found the day inspirational and was grateful for the honest perspectives everybody brought to the discussions. I think the future for engaging, contemporary art in libraries as a whole is bright and positive and I now can’t wait to see Tall Tales reach Glasgow Women’s Library.

Charlie Booth, Assistant Curator for Tall Tales

Call for Cloth gathering threads…

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As Call for Cloth takes up temporary home on our second leg of the Tall Tales tour, at Touchstones, Rochdale, project artist Lauren Sagar is starting to weave the collected stories from community groups and the general public so far, together into a new art work.

Whilst based at Touchstones, Rochdale, Lauren has been meeting both local Rochdale group Knitty Gritty, as well as wider knitting and crafts groups from Greater Manchester (Cross Acres Knitters from Wythenshawe Age Concern and Many Hands from Victoria Square in Ancoats) to develop some visual ideas for the final Call for Cloth installation.

Lauren has been focusing specifically on creating a series of blankets which relate to each of the touring venues and its local communities, responding to conversations with the general public and their associations to blankets as an item for care, comfort, sharing and family. So by inviting the local community groups in Rochdale and Manchester to pick up on details from personal stories attached to cloth and textiles, as well as responding to other collected stories and images of cloth, the groups were able to create a piece of work which will weave into the fabric of the final blankets. Once the project finishes and the Tall Tales exhibition is over, each of the blankets made will be donated to a local group / community of the participants choice, keeping the gift of sharing stories and care growing.

Lauren is also working with a local South Manchester, Burnage group. As Lauren explained to me she started to work with this particular group about 15 years ago.

Lauren… “I supported them in setting up a stained glass group in Burnage and they have been going ever since. They meet every Wednesday at a Working Men’s Club in Burnage. They are enthusiastic about the project and have contributed some beautiful stories, some of which are recorded. They are coming to Touchstones next Wednesday to see the exhibition, and then the following Wednesday we are spending the morning creating artwork for the Manchester Blanket, and starting the discussion about where we gift the blanket to”.

 

The final blanket artworks, will be situated in our final venue for the tour, Glasgow Women’s Library, and the work could not be better suited as Lauren herself discovered during her research trip to the Library last week.

Amongst the richly diverse textiles archives the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) owns, they also have their very own GWL blanket, again with its own story.  Lauren learnt that there was Adele Patrick, Lifelong Learning and Creative Development IMG_0200Manager at GWL, explained to Lauren how a volunteer had knitted the blanket for the library. It lives on one of the arm chairs within the main reading area, which people often make use of it. She said that recently there was a conference at the Library and that one of the attendees felt faint and unwell. She spent the rest of the day in the arm chair, wrapped in the blanket. Both Lauren and Adele “wondered about other similar stories this blanket is safe keeping.”

Glasgow Women’s Library local groups are also working with Lauren and supporting project artist Joanna Peace to make their own responsive Call for Cloth artwork which will weave into the overall Tall Tales exhibition at the Library this October so Call for Cloth really is finding its home in the fabric of the overall Tall Tales project and we can’t wait to see the results!

If you want to find out more about the Call for Cloth project or donate your own Call for Cloth story you can visit the project page here

Liz Wewiora, Tall Tales Curator

 

 

Image credits: top image, donated textiles from Call for Cloth participant, Image C. Artist and participant, 2016
bottom image: Glasgow Women’s Library Blanket at Glasgow Women’s Library, Image C. Artist and Glasgow Women’s Library 2016