A Social Report
The NewBridge Project is a cultural centre for visual artists primarily concerned with production, exhibition, and loyalty. It houses several programmes negotiated by different governing principles, networks, committees, morals, and priorities. Programmes serve to generate activities that stretch (challenge and exhaust) staff, volunteers, members, and audiences. It’s public face is ambitious with an independent book shop, directorship and gallery space that extend far beyond existing resources. Above, eighty studios store works-in-progress, studio artists and industrious collectives developing a meaningful art scene for England’s North East. The NewBridge Project fills a gap; a gap that is yet to be fully understood by all those involved; a gap that will make itself present through the eviction of the current studios in April 2017. A Social Report is a selfinstigated, outsider’s offering of research towards the development of The NewBridge Project following A Social Residency, September 2016. The Report will first aim to break down the desire the organisation has to be criticised, and what kinds of performance (relationships, expectations) this might predetermine within the context of artistic residency. Crucial to this, will be the concept of the anti-social. The Report will then attempt to form an understanding of how performance art criticism might be a successful way of analysing organisational practice. Finally, the Report will aim to speculate upon the shape and constitution of the gap which The NewBridge Project might have filled, and how this kind of gap might be drawn upon in future iterations of The NewBridge Project.
Anti-Social consultancy In April 2016, The NewBridge Project extended an open call to all members of the organisation to take part in the month-long A Social Residency. Suggesting a practice that might situate itself somewhere between the curatorial, anthropology, social engagement, action-research and criticism; A Social Residency promised a unique kind of residency where an amorphous practice might integrate and operate within the existing mechanics of the organisation. The residency was part of NewBridge’s relatively new programming strand, Practice Makes Practice, focusing on the provision of social, professional, and critical opportunities for all members. As an evolving programme of activity, and having just initiated a certain sort of governance guided by a steering group, Practice Makes Practice was looking for a Critical Friend as part of its early formation towards something more defined. The residency also came one year following Do We Need to Grow Up, a period of research, exhibitions and open meetings around the maturity of the organisation as part of its five-year anniversary. Having survived for five years on a rolling, monthly lease, NewBridge continued to work precariously under the pressure that they may be evicted with a month’s notice. Alongside the ways in which this must have effected the artists practicing in the building, the rolling precarity has become an institutional feature of the organisation. One month prior to A Social Residency, Jessie Jacobs was appointed as development director - a temporary position aiming at future-proofing the organisation in anticipation for their inevitable eviction from the current site. As the Social Resident, I was trusted with a great deal of access to the research Jessie was undertaking as well as holding responsibilities within workshop instigation, co-ordination and facilitation. I was also trusted with chairing meetings between the Practice Makes Practice Steering Group and directorship, as well as attending various other meetings whilst in residence. As an outsider, my views were regarded as speaking from another set of logics and constraints on cultural production. My voice was listened to with
great respect and I am incredibly grateful for the position of privilege I was gifted, a privilege generally only felt by consultants, auditors, and professionals with high levels of expertise in given areas. In regards to my experience: during my time serving with Transmission, an artist-run organisation in Glasgow, I facilitated and chaired several meetings, as well as instigating the series of Constitution Workshops interrogating the selection of governing documents that bind Transmission to its method of practice. I have since instigated and organised various other selfreflexive dialogues with community theatres, studio groups, practitioners, and galleries amongst others. I would never classify myself an expert on modes of organisation, but in practice I frequently take on the role of organiser in order to bring assemblies, conversations, and events, into being. Bearing this in mind, I happily responded to NewBridge’s invitation for criticism, but did not yet know the exact form or frame that criticism may take. My role was somewhat amateur. A Social Report is written as an attempt at criticism after falling deeply for the charms of NewBridge and its community. Through attendance at relatively fragile initial meetings of the Practice Makes Practice steering group, I intended to gain insight into some of the value systems active in decisions made, and help channel those values into a structure that would not just benefit practice, but creatively mirror the group. The task of aiming to find insight in four weeks was very ambitious. What I found was an echo of a description I’d heard during a talk by anthropologist, Daniel Miller at Rhubaba, an organisation based in Edinburgh of similar age to The NewBridge Project. The conversation accompanied the group exhibition Still Life with Flying Objects, a show featuring works by artists who reflect on the process and compelling nature of making objects. Miller regarded the works on display as ‘disturbing’. As an outsider to the logics of contemporary art, he found the objects defied his personal sense of logic, which he carefully explained was trained through academia. He expanded this to include the many subjective logics present in
public audiences untrained in artistic production, alien to the thought and material processes of devising art. If we are to translate his interpretation of the exhibition to the ways in which a criticism might be developed around The NewBridge Project, it is imperative to find the ‘disturbing logic’ inherent to production. What we can begin to outline is NewBridge’s preoccupation with the production of sculpture, artworks, shapes, forms, tacit and physical objects. Contrary to my amorphous character that was definitely exacerbated by my position as amateur consultant, this logic seemed totally alien - a given trajectory and set of goals that everyone seemed to be propagating socially. During the meetings with studio-holders, frequent observational walks around the building, and research into the tendency of artistic practice, I began to feel less like an integrated member of the scene, and more like an anti-social critic who just wasn’t getting it. The crevasse between logics came to a head in the second meeting with members of the steering group. We were developing a new way of organising a programming method based on rhythms, frequencies, and pitch, when members stated they simply could not commit to attending all the events that were initiated. Instead they were prioritising paid employment over their commitments to the programme they were building together. In the most basic terms, their individual shift-work was taking precedent over any shared rhythm, the reply to committing to one another was a solid, sculptural ‘no’. I was shocked at this attitude, to what purpose does a voluntary programming position have if you aren’t to proudly host, and take ownership over the programme you develop? In our difficult and stretched
sector, these are some of the only benefits to the mass of organisational work we do. Maybe I was anti-social for presuming that people would happily submit themselves into the complex mass of the Project, maybe I was anti-social for not understanding the definitive work split in Newcastle, where paid employment comes first, no matter the type. The economy present here was so different to the familiar approaches and support networks for making work in Glasgow. Here, this notion resided as absolute: that producing sculpture costs money, and that obtaining money was primary. Through understanding this grounding character, a whole different kind of logic could develop and be charted. Of course, to generalise that everyone associated with NewBridge and the scene produces sculpture would be absurd. What was clear however was that this logical value system had been maintained through the continued prevalence of sculpture as a medium within the region that is ‘seen’. It infected the production of video, the devising of performance, the stretching of canvas, the applications of research, the habits of administration; reproducing itself through communal living, working and inheriting. So, is this ‘disturbing’ logic system to which I have become aware of, the element I am to consult upon; what am I to critique, and why? Why is criticism the medium that has been called upon? To retrace the history of criticism is to draw a parallel with its cousin from the 17th Century, reformation. As crowns all over Europe answered to societal calls for reformation of Catholicism at the end of the middle ages, rulers and monarchs saw the opportunity to better solidify their reigns, sovereignties, states, preventing violent
revolution in the process. Societal criticism of this kind inherently linked itself with the ongoing development of capitalism from feudalism. It is capitalism’s greatest tool, allowing it to alter form to further its hold. Criticism is itself problematic because of this shared history. This is especially true when evaluating and altering the performativity of the subject, resulting in what we might see as echoing the potency of neoliberalism’s strategy for evolution. Of course, this is different from how an anti-social audience member might interrupt a performer’s train of though through criticism: heckling, a practice that is taboo in most western theatrical traditions. Instead neoliberal criticism might be the private whispering into an ear, a correction made through a headset, kept between the critic and the performer so as to maintain social etiquette. This is not purely on the onus of the critic, it is also the way we might be conditioned to perform as post-fordist workers, silently absorbing live criticism, and editing our change as we go. What is true in either case, is the effect that criticism has in altering performance. What differs is the manner in which that criticism is performed: social and anti-social. The former is reformation, agonism; the latter, an antagonism that breaks concentration and shatters whatever theatre might have been built. In order to avoid live manipulation and distraction from artistic intention, criticism usually happens after the live event, as a form of documentation, exposing the disappearing event, and re-charactering it. Because there is so much expectation on the performance oeuvre, a belief that a performer will perform again, criticism of this sort is social reformation. Reformation for growth, and growth for profit. The most active critics are the most social, the most active critics are capitalists. In this system
we can’t seem to flee, criticism productively strengthens the model, its one of the most social, and societal, of activities. During Afternotes, an event I coprogrammed with Rhubaba, during A Social Residency, conversation drew to discussing the notion of growth in political and economic conditions of austerity. We, in the left, tend to disregard growth as a capitalist paradigm. Can we look at growth in different ways, the ways in which bacteria might develop culture in areas of structural neglect? The ways in which anti-social, coexisting bodies can exploit loopholes in systems? In order to proceed, we have two choices. The first, might be a parliament of hecklers; the second, a whispering fizz of stage managers. To return to the logic I observed in the region, the potency of sculptural form: criticism in both senses here is enacted in a reductive way, a picking apart of the tendencies, habits, protocols that make NewBridge the organisation it is. This is how criticism is applied in this context, and how I imagine the expectations of my position as Social Resident were built. It would be impossible to remove that position and the social and moral obligations attached to it from the way in which I perform criticism. The outsider mining, seeing, and defining the essence. It is the socially acceptable thing to do in exchange for the dedicated support I received. Within the oral contract entered into with The NewBridge Project, we pass into the social sphere with all the values, morals, and performances implied by that. I have become a friend and a stakeholder in the success of the organisation. The social involvement is therefore always reformativecritical. A mutual investment colouring my
actions no matter how I might choose to perform. The anti-social consultancy is therefore a horizon point of interruption in the residency which I could not achieve, no matter how hard I tried to escape my social connections. This imaginary position could be characterised by the resistance to subscribing to investment in the organisation, and acting out rather than acting with. It is the, sociologically speaking, ideal position from which to ascertain a dislocated and unbiased observation of the organisation. The anti-social being, can operate as vandal, saboteur, illegal, undocumented, and remain uncompromised to the labour revolution in performance.
Five Studio Critics Out of eighty studios in The NewBridge Project, it was often stated that people only saw twentyfive or so artists on a regular basis. A logic system serving sculptural production ensures that everyone in the studio complex pays a flat rate no-one is penalised for the size of work they make. The rate is ÂŁ16.50 per week, with 80 studio artists generating an income of ÂŁ68,640 per calendar year. One studio artist pays ÂŁ858/year for a studio space. Studio artists are expected to perform to certain community standards, contribute to a general respect for contemporary art production, and not hinder the development of fellow studio artists. This is in exchange for the relatively cheap studio rates, and is characteristic of a lot of semiprofessional economic relations.
The NewBridge Project Performs “Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be, but it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you” - Rachel Dawes, Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan, 2005 assumption, that performance is constructed Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s love interest from what actions we publicly make. This from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, assumption of course is generally used to try raises an interesting question in the ways we to expose an underneath, a score, an can begin to assess organisational practice intention, a politic that might not be visible as performance. She differentiates during the event. As we have already stated, exactingly the two scenes of performance usually performance art criticism takes around the verb ‘to do’: the underneath places after an event has taken place. (backstage) and the action (onstage), as well This has the dual character of as the relations both have to a historicising work as well, history or origin story (in Bruce’s case, childhood). To Innovative Maintenance enacts a looking for these truths in c r i t i c i s m t h r o u g h c o m p l e t e order to channel performance provide a little bit of context, democratisation of studio space through already dug paths, in this scene Rachel is and equipment. Their studio hosts a scolding a hedonistic Bruce, large casting workshop; itself a remarking upon trajectories programme for recent graduates in that might follow, trends we whom she knows from ceramics, plastering, and pottery. should look out for. childhood, after he stumbles The studio is progressive in the out of a party. His billionaire sense of how studios can function Performance Art history, by lifestyle contradicts a lot of as social spaces. They believe in extension, is more primarily her professional politics as an the furthering of the casting concerned with the narration p r o c e s s , a n d a r e t h e r e f o r e of several underneaths Assistant District Attorney, it complicit with the current logics of also skews her impression of the organisation. Their criticism is mediated through their Bruce from childhood. He therefore conducted in tandem with varying levels of document; the directorship, and is part of a the history of performance may have started out with and development of art, is of course the history of good intentions but has been self-critique the organisation. Innovative corrupted over time, his Maintenance is superbly kind and performance art actions forming a cloak of generous, and their attitude is documentation. Because characteristic of the organisation at criticism and history are so performance around a large. closely interlinked in the promise of true character. dissemination of live art, we In Anti-Social must explore this field as well in order to consultancy, I briefly mentioned the relation investigate criticism’s ability to uncover the between criticism and performance in identifiable essence of The NewBridge regards to its use as a documentary form. In addition to criticism becoming a social, Project. propagating substance for the longevity, Performance Art History is a field archivability and viral quality of the live event, that depends on the willingness of performance art criticism also concerns performance artists to submit into an itself in the examination and deconstruction economy of reproduction, to gift artifacts to of technique, presence, absence, audiencea canon. Peggy Phelan, argues in her text care, affect, narrative, craft, rigour, risk, and The Ontology of Performance Art: intention of action. This is all with the in Representation without Reproduction, 1993 order to improve a performance practice or that the most defining element of the live act in bolstering the performance artist as a is disappearance, performance that retreats commodity. A Social Report intends to into nothing only to be recalled by the viewer. She argues against the document perform both these tasks for The NewBridge having any real consequence or likeness to Project. A major part of performance the live event, and essentially disregards any criticism is focused on Rachel Dawes’ kind of professional history because of its
dependence on this. In The Viral Ontology of facades, but what we are concerned with Performance Art, 2012 an adaptation of here is Rachel’s criticism of what Bruce Phelan’s text, Christopher Bedford argues does in relation to the origin she’s aware of, instead that performance exists as example, and how this love story might shed light on a readymade prepared for re-enactment with The NewBridge Project. different values or purposes dependent on The origin of The NewBridge context. He chooses specifically the example Project is not one of trauma, but one of of Chris Burden’s Shoot, 1971, and it’s ingenuity; it was born out of a loophole. After reiterations in various virtual worlds as well setting up PopUp Initiative in 2010 as part of as, to Burden’s horror, an appropriation of a city-engineered shopfront exhibitions the work by a student on campus at UCLA. programme, Will Marshall and Will Strong, Bedford’s history is a succession of viral rethe two directors at the time, showed applications, rather than Phelan’s ultimate ambition in developing the platform beyond presence and memory work. Bedford the initial project. They renovated floor-byproposes that there is no end to floor as the studio gained momentum. The performance, that performance although pseudo-business venture was run, quite ending in a public sense, always invites recomically and notoriously, from a long performance by others. Bedford’s analysis boardroom consisting of two desks facing of performance fits with our understanding one another. Since then, the of criticism as altering organisation has been performativity. The Studio-Visit Romantic passed to Charlotte Gregory Rachel is a brings back lovers to their studio after nights out where they have and Rebecca Huggan who staunch Phelan-ite, a firm uncomfortable sex in a convenient run the organisation from a believer in identity built city-centre location. Having held a through public presence. Set studio since they were set up, their greenhouse in the book shop. in the institution of justice, practice is now almost solely The block belongs to the supported by regular studio-visits Reubens Brothers, two she is concerned with the held with one-night stands. Dates businessmen (currently piecing together of evidence are also shown around the project to convict criminals. Rachel is spaces and galleries on their visits, charted at 60th wealthiest whilst The Studio-Visit Romantic people in the world) who own also a fictional character provides interpretations and a handful of property in developed by Nolan outside commentary about the works on Newcastle city centre as part the DC canon, pieced show. This self-initiated public of their portfolio. In order to together from Batman’s engagement programme provides various love interests, an an insightful criticism of the avoid heavy taxes on their responsibility in maintaining that assets, The Reubens amalgam of romances and between studio holders Brothers host cultural relationships. Her involvement relationship and the public spaces of the ventures in exchange for the and belief in present evidence building. properties being taken care is therefore not a direct reof. application of a previous Although The NewBridge Project character, but a haunting of a history may have this almost slapstick, big-business invested in Bruce’s flirtation with uncovering history, Gregory and Huggan have made his own truth. A major element of Nolan’s efforts to adopt a grassroots, and community trilogy is concerned with Bruce’s tension development focus. It should be stated between keeping his superhero identity however that innovation, entrepreneurialship, secret whilst falling deeply in love with and professionalism still haunt the approach Rachel (and by extension a nostalgia for his NewBridge takes, especially its emphasis on childhood prior to his parents’ murder). Bruce is confused in terms of dealing with development. If this is The NewBridge the origin trauma he faces: his alter-ego, Project’s origin, then we are going to Batman, presents a fantasy of revenge, a struggle with applying Rachel’s somewhat breaking even of honour and debt with those clinical distinction between history and that have wronged him; and his romantic activity as a definitive critical framework. interest, Rachel, who presents a healthy Rachel’s binary actually predetermines that compromise, an intimate and vulnerable organisational performance only takes place mutuality based on action. I’m sure Freud, as a public effort. It disregards decisions, Jung, Lacan would have a field day with the relationships, performances made backstage double underneath of Bruce/Batman’s as non-characteristic of an identity. Rachel’s
institutionalised position within the justice screened with Rhubaba; and Sonic system, relies on evidential, observed truth. Meditations and performance scores being The majority of activity at The NewBridge used as exercises in the workshops with studio holders. Project is off-record, undocumented, and In order to proceed with caution evasive from entering into the public realm. in this, we must treat performances that What NewBridge does, is primarily would be demonised within the post-fordist underneath the surface; studios often are. analysis of employee labour as signifiers and As part of Living Out Ideas: A Scratch Night vital acts. Characteristics like laziness, with Curatorial Studio, a curatorial peerprocrastination, poor timekeeping, ineffective group based across Scotland, we shared administration, scandal, mess, dissensus, memories of our initial weekend together. deviance, blockages must be appreciated. Within the first hour of meeting one another With them, we can begin to criticise the way we were hosting a public event, pulling in which a scene might monitor itself, together texts, live-editing in groups, and keeping practitioners under the impression performing vulnerabilities to our peers and they need to be busy at all times. The Antian audience. The act of hosting, performing socialite’s studio space as an simultaneous positions onstage and uncompromising blockage backstage, is a good example (and the ill-feeling it has for why we must broaden The Anti-socialite performs an caused within the studios) is performance art criticism to absent criticism, their criticism is present through a large tent enough reason to speculate extend beyond the exposed inhabiting a sought-after studio this kind of communal stage, to the intimate space. Their tent is a set of stakes monitoring is already mechanics that are done in the building, an empty space underway. Attitudes of surrounded by surface, an image offstage. The greenhouse as as occupation. It’s Pamela Lee’s entitlement amongst studio a transparent office, is a way ‘ w o r k o f a r t ’ s w o r l d ’ , t h e artists demanding cheap of encouraging this kind of performance of labour as it stays in studio space, and a criticism. someone’s space, it’s Heidegger’s territorialisation of work-being and the unplucked I understand that world that it exists within. It exists organisational practice, also analysing an organisation along the tension between Phelan’s signify a confusion and through performance terms and Stanislawski’s performance manipulation of the idea of presence, its a betrayal of both might resemble dangerous binary forces as the thing enters performance towards ways that capital and into the contemporary art market financial ends. If we do not corporate agendas might economy of reproduction. It’s a appreciate these as integral embrace transparency and fucking academic exercise ain’t it. to organisation then we are Untouched for three years, but a accountability by demonising promise to come back. It’s like (1) not criticising an anti-productivity. Shared every art work ever so it’s not organisation at all, merely the terms between performance particularly special. I’m just image and representation of art and post-fordism, (key obsessed with it as a blockage. an organisation, and performance indicators, (2) abandoning the language project delivery, exchange), of performance to capital forever. make it is easy to see why these jargons and The more I apply my alter-ego discourses have crossed. The NewBridge Rachel Dawes in order to criticise and Project Performs should not be read as the unearth truths in The NewBridge Project, the complete dismissal of the use of this more I might actually be dispelling the ability language. The opportunity performance has for the organisation to perform vigilanteism to borrow from labour discourses is and political superhero-ism under the radar. testament to its ubiquity in everyday life. We Like a gorgon, observation and perception only need to look at performance scores by of the action I warrant attention to, turns it to composer Pauline Oliveros in order to see stone. Can this kind of ultimatum present the ways in which performance, in essence, The NewBridge Project with a dilemma in is organisational. Oliveros’ scores were choosing one or the other. Rachel Dawes is influential in developing the programme on A perhaps a ridiculous costume, Nolan’s Social Residency, with To Valerie Solanas chimera of love, that I’m donning in order to and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their perform outside the organisation from a Desperation, 2013 a film by Pauline Boudry/ position within a trilogy of opulence, visibility Renate Lorenz, forming one of two films and maniacal logic. Rachel’s form of
criticism is very social, very moral, very characteristic, an uncompromisable hallmark much for the bettering of society. She is the to the organisation so that they could carry forward their mission beyond their current antithesis of the majority of characters in site. Of course, this research was always play and is certainly not the imaginary antigoing to be biased towards outcomes that social horizon that I’ve assumed might be would engender a continued existence, a the kind of position NewBridge might need survival mechanism that A Social Report to criticise them. and I are prosthesis to. What we have found However, perhaps a more is that additive criticism of the organisation rigorous criticism might be unearthed is performed habitually in the community through an imaginative appreciation of through practice. The essence we long for understanding and love; from the individual may continue to be imaginary, an absent studio practices occupying the complex. gravity that can be approximated through a Rather than engaging with what we might charting of it’s satellites. have previously understood as reductive The eviction from the New Bridge criticism, maybe we can treat studio Street site is upsetting; I write this report practice as a form of performed and additive half-fueled through nostalgia, and half criticism, a queer, anti-normative approach through urgency. The move should be to studio-holding; an ex-centric activity that’s viewed as an opportunity, space to develop already performing within the organisation. If a more mutual relationship we trace along queer theory, with those in orbit. Drawing a trajectory through lesbian The Pen Name Subtenant is the and gay studies, deviance most infuriating of critics. They once again from Rachel regularly hijack the waiting list for Dawes as our resident studies, sociology, and renting multiple spaces performance critic: What we psychology, we can see how studios, under different names. They then do now will determine what we the performance of certain post and market the spaces online, kinds of activity within a given letting them out for a profit. At are, not what we were before. system can actually determine p r e s e n t , T h e P e n N a m e We just have to release Subtenant co-ordinates half of the ourselves from the perception what the boundaries of that spaces in the building, making it that a performance can only system might be. Presenting very difficult for the administrative be seen from the outside. all activity on a shared field, staff to keep track of who and who we are able to calculate, in an does not have access to the building’s facilities. The profit from abstract sense, a median each of these studio spaces goes point and therefore a given into funding a separate, norm. Following this logic, competitive, administrative facility within the studios, catering only to any queer life practice, or who pay for the higher-price peripheral life practices might those studio spaces. actually be performing the boundary in which the norm can be located. Can looking at these nonnormative practices actually give us greater insight into the essence of activity? Alongside the five fictional studio critics punctuating this chapter, A Social Residency also holds a kind of short-term non-normative studio practice. These kinds of occupation might hold the key to realising what an organisation does, rather than marking distinctions between: (1) the perceived public identity formed by the management and programme; and (2) the awkward, private citizenship composed of members. This sociality and its impossible removal from the organisation is by far the most fertile place to begin. In The NewBridge Project Performs, I hoped to uncover an essential
Rachel Dawes looks around, confused that her care for Bruce has been bastardised, taken out of context, and over-analysed in a manner typical of any anxious lover. She begins to question herself. Is the ultimatum she’s threatening eliminating all his possibilities for private action? Should every action be re-performed for a public in the values of transparency? Does the double performance of truth she must labour in court and paperwork for the status of justice be reflected in her feelings for Bruce. She habitually clings to the publication of evidence emerging from darkness, but she calls Bruce. The two retrace his past to the alleyway of his parent’s murder. Along the alleyway is a small, fringe theatre with a popular bar down the back of an Artists’ Studios. The two enter, halfway into a re-performance of Chris Burden’s seminal work Shoot, 1971. The bullet hasn’t left the barrel yet, the performer is still warming the crowd up.
Overlooking the gap ‘The NewBridge Project fills a gap’ was the most common perception I heard about the organisation over the course of A Social Residency. It was vocalised on numerous occasions by members, and was very present in the initial research survey conducted by Jessie Jacobs. It was also the general consensus held by other cultural organisations in the North-East. What is the gap everyone believes The NewBridge Project fills? It is such an ambiguous statement, surely everything fills some kind of gap, or at least occupies virtual or physical space. After worrying over the sculptural logic that underlies some of the major regional value systems, it seems only fitting (if not a little ironic) that the gap, a three-dimensional object, is best described through spatial language, through relief, shape and form. A gap is an empty space or opening in the middle of something or between two or more things. Its size and scale are characterised by those things that boundary it, the surfaces and objects it sits between. Without walls, the void spills out to a sprawling mass, an anti-character. The best way to identify the shape of the gap in question is therefore to determine the nature of the objects that surround it. To follow directly from the sculptural analogy, we can look at the physical properties that enclose the void. In the most simple sense as a gap in the city centre; between the city library, a cinema, Commercial Union House, a busy shopping street, Newcastle’s somewhat-burgeoning burger district, a clock that chimes on the quarter hour. Although giving us insight into the context of the studios as a present feature of Newcastle city centre, these don’t give us any clues regarding any unique characteristics. We can think about the organisation’s position within a cultural landscape: between the Baltic and Baltic 39, 36 Lime Street, Cobalt Studios, Commercial Union House, the Laing, the Hatton, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, Northern Charter, The Biscuit Factory, The Holy Biscuit, Film Club, Tyneside Cinema, Star & Shadow Cinema,
HMOProjects, The Shipley, Workplace, Drop City, (the presently nomadic) NGCA, and many, many other projects. This understanding gives us the impression that an elementary feature of The NewBridge Project might not be getting performed by any of the others in this expansive network. To assume that an organisation is doing anything unique within this kind of extensive landscape in regards to programming, partnerships, or the facilities they might afford artists is born out of a territorial condition relevant to many organisations listed here (and so many more beyond). The ongoing pressures to develop a niche within a given sector is a prevalent and dangerous condition propagated by stretched funding. The logic of the financial in this respect leaves us with the one thing we abhor, that NewBridge is capable of offering more affordable studio space than any other space in the city, and that this is it’s primary (implied ‘only’) strength. This is, of course, a flat assumption which I implore NewBridge to ignore from previous research. Another gap NewBridge could fill is an emotional one, one created through loss. This could be from the loss of schooling, an academic framework, a peersupport group. A framework through which to practice, a sense of purpose, a sense of progression, a validation of a career path, and a site to make work. By Artists, For Artists, a workshop devised with Calum Bowden, focused on the provision of space between artists, a guiding principle for The NewBridge Project. Following that this governing tenet was a grammar learned through etiquette, inheritance and practice, we concluded that this isolationist attitude can easily be instrumentalised by austerity regimes. Although, I am aware of the innovative approaches NewBridge are taking in regards to graduate support, I would dissuade them from positioning themselves as simply a graduate space for the same reasons. In the current economic situation with prices for schooling increasing dramatically as all universities suffer from cuts (EU grants, UK austerity measures) NewBridge can offer the majority of facilities marketed as ‘unique’ to the art school. It can do all this whilst not conforming to the alltoo-familiar professional ladder that market forces are carving out. I will not go into this
here as NewBridge are very aware of their ‘civically-designated’ purpose. I will say however, that they are very good at performing secret acts of activism alongside their public ‘civic’ face. In a strange way, this face counters the purpose they hold for The Reubens Brothers: tax breaks. NewBridge fills the gap in growth that would be taxed through asset-holding. It is profitable to be philanthropic to arts organisations in this way, otherwise we would certainly not see these kinds of gifts. The cross-purposes between the ‘unseen’, property market, and the ‘seen’ retail market that will replace the current site is most definitely one of the reasons Newcastle City Council is pressing down on this loophole. The dissimilarities in these two economies and the ways in which they can be instrumentalised for civic imagemaking is very real. As much as The NewBridge Project could have found a place in the soft-power cultural quarter that NE1 are developing, they would have had to drastically compromise on their privacy. Other economies, or worlds, that find problems in coexisting in NewBridge were seen during the meeting with the Practice Makes Practice steering group. The inability to commit to a programme that would take priority above individuals’ shift-work. Perhaps the objects surrounding the gap are existing commitments; resulting in a programme that essentially fills the space between other priorities. So as not to isolate this as a distinct form, we should expand this notion beyond the group present at the meeting to include studio holders who all wrestle with prior commitments. Sadly, this would constitute that NewBridge is the gap between a community’s other engagements, and is shaped/sculpted by these. Although this is a potentially nihilistic vision, where in all essence NewBridge is the product of its members’ inability to prioritise it. This position between economies, systems, commitments, employment, and worlds can be a strong one.
Imagine a venn diagram, many colourful circles signifying worlds, lots of different diameters overlapping one another. Where a circle overlaps another, the colours representing those worlds mix; a crossover between two or more worlds. I borrow from Heidegger here in order to distinguish ‘worlds’ relative to ‘Earth’. Overwhelmed by the abundance of phenomenologies present in the latter, we instead choose to focus on a few, editing perceptions to create meaningful and navigable worlds. Usually within venn diagrams, there is a central patch where all worlds superimpose upon one another. Instead, imagine this zone is empty. The worlds neighbouring the zone: architecture, finance, history, politics, love, civic design, art, the public, the social, pop culture, employment, venture capitalism, and so on, boundarying a single hollow gap; an anti-rhythm of these structures; a sunken refuge defined by these imagined walls. Kept flush with a surface, this gap seems like a filled crossover between other surveying worlds. Citizens of these worlds gaze in to a centre that looks like a smooth, flat plane. It is safe to exist within this overlooked space, exactly level with our surrounds so as not to be exposed, so as not to trigger surveillance. The ongoing struggle NewBridge has with growth is a haunting that will recurrently expose it. Just like bacterial cultures multiply, fragment, distort, evolve in spaces of structural neglect, so must The NewBridge Project fractalise, complicate, recallibrate, mystify, choose growth patterns autonomous from cultural and institutional scaleability. It must find new loopholes and continue to exist within them. It must form submerged, surreptitious connections with others in similar positions, not letting people know that they’re even filling gaps. This form of the anti-social separate from instrumentalisation, is the manner through which NewBridge will alter. This is not a call for the recurrence and ongoing development of The NewBridge Project as a studio facility, but the radical overhaul of NewBridge towards an overlooked infrastructure in subterfuge.
A Social Residency took place between the 1st and 30th September 2016 at The NewBridge Project, 12 New Bridge West, Newcastle-uponTyne, NE1 8AW. An Artist’s Talk Thursday 1st September, 6-8pm Afternotes Tuesday 6th September, 5:30 - 8:30pm with Rhubaba Gallery and Studios (Timothea Armour, Ben Callaghan, and Jenny Salmean) Reading Group and screening centred around the improvisatory nature of politics relative to privilege of resource. Readings from How to Survive on Land and Sea by Daniella Hughes and We Have Won! by Copenhagen Free University Abolition Committee. Film Screenings of Writers’ Group, 2016 by Lucy Parker, and To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation, 2013 by Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz. Living Out Ideas: A Scratch Night Saturday 16th September, 6-9pm with Curatorial Studio (Cicely Farrer, Kirsteen Macdonald, Katherine Murphy, Rosie O’Grady) The group embodied and presented fringe content, correspondences, references and concerns from previous discussions in the theatrical format of the scratch night. This event was followed by formal and informal discussions around curatorial practice in the North East. By Artists, For Artists Monday 26th September, 11-4pm with Calum Bowden. Open-research workshop centred on the main focus of A Social Residency: how do we maintain, sustain, and contain self-governing infrastructures like the art scene, and what place does the peer-group mentality of resemblance have within this? In the context of Practice Makes Practice, the workshop was an opportunity to reflect on one of the central tenets of the programme ‘run by artists, for artists’.
With major thanks to: The NewBridge Project, Practice Makes Practice Steering Group, Charlotte Gregory, Rebecca Huggan, Jessie Jacobs, Clare Gomez, Kuba Ryniewicz; HMO Projects, Hannah Marsden, Toby Lloyd, Harriet Sutcliffe; Rhubaba Gallery and Studios, Timothea Armour, Ben Callaghan, Lara MacLeod, Jenny Salmean; Curatorial Studio, Cicely Farrer, Kirsteen MacDonald, Katherine Murphy, Rosie O’Grady; Calum Bowden; Edinburgh College, Alan Holligan, Jennie Temple, Collette Woods, Introduction to Performance Class; Platform, Margaret McCormick, Paul Marsden; Cooper Gallery, Sophia Yao, Alison Scott; GHOST, Kari Robertson, Madison Bycroft, Natalia Sorzano; What Next? Newcastle Chapter; Transmission’s Constitution Working Group; Peter Amoore, Fiona Anderson, Jade Sweeting, James Bell, Sophie Lisa Beresford, Kathryn Brame, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Viviana Checchia, Dean Crawford, Hester Dowling, Kathryn Elkin, Juliet Fleming, Adam Goodwin, Aaron Guy, Julia Heslop, Katie Hickman, Daniella Hughes, Marcus Jack, Jamie Kane, Madeleine Kennedy, Adam LewisJacob, Leaver-Yap, David Lisser, Joanna Monks, Emmie McLuskey, Gayle Meikle, Sarah Munro, Luke Mullen, Lucy Parker, Amy Pickles, Theresa Poulton, Iris Priest, Jessica Ramm, Irene Revell, Imogen Ross, Isla Ross, Janina Sabaliauskaite, Helen Savage, Sally Sears-Black, Helen Shaddock, Alison Merritt Smith, and Kate Stobbart. Gordon Douglas, Nov ’16 - Feb ‘17.