Joanne & Becky
J: One of the reasons I was most excited to work with you is your image ethics, which is a strong part of your practice. Can you address the main themes of your work?
B: The themes in my work are often driven by the people that I am working with – but at the core of my work is the notion of identity. Who I am as the artist, who the group I am working with is: what makes us, our role within society, and the politics of all of it. My work is deeply rooted in social practice, and I am passionate about creating dialogue and exchange, both in the way that the work is made, but also in how people engage with the work. Authorship has a key role in this, which is one of the things I am excited to experiment with in FORM. But I guess I’m most interested in the politics of representation – who represents who, and who the audience is – these questions are really key to my work.
J: I find it really integral to contemporary image making to make work with people, rather than just about people. In your work you host a lot of interesting socially engaged workshops. Can you tell us about a project you’ve felt most proud of to date?
B: Absolutely, it’s an integral part of my practice. Every now and again I think about making work differently, but then I am left feeling a sense of disconnect. When I worked for PhotoVoice, I led a project called Having Our Say3 , which worked with children and young people who had experience of, or deemed at risk of child sexual exploitation. It was a big multi-year project, that worked with groups in Manchester, Croydon and Middlesbrough. We ran a series of workshops in each location, with the groups each creating their own portfolios and digital stories about the theme, then their work was pulled together into a resource, which was then used to train other professionals in the sector. We distributed it across the UK, and the resource is then used to work with other young people who are experiencing the issues.
I learnt a lot on that project, from the other project manager, Helen Cammock, who is an incredible artist and facilitator, I see her as a bit of a mentor; but also from the young people themselves. I’m proud of it because it really challenged me, and stretched my understanding of socially engaged practice, and what the possibilities are of the arts working within other sectors. I learnt a lot about ethics and safeguarding in that project, but also about narrative and storytelling. Some of the work the young people made is amazing, their bravery and courage to create work that is so personal, but their conviction that taking part might improve the services they received for other young people is really incredible. You can see some of it here.
J: Ok finally, to round up our little chinwag. Activism is a strong part of who you are and your work. Can you talk about this?
R: I’ve been thinking a bit about this recently, and in many ways, I would argue that socially engaged practice is in itself a form of activism. It sits in opposition to the consumerism and elitism of the art world, and often directly challenges the institutions and their traditional audiences to reconsider what ‘art’ is. This is something I want to be a part of. I’m not interested in work that only speaks to one audience, champions white, middle class, straight, male, able bodied artists for making work that exploits other communities, or fetishes female artists or artists of colour. I see my role as an artist and also as someone who works within a gallery, to confront this, to champion emerging artists, particularly those from underrepresented groups, to make and display work that challenges the audiences to ask questions, and think about things differently.
More explicitly as an activist, I have been involved in protests and campaigns around women’s rights and more specifically about domestic violence. I’ve run lots of workshops on these issues, then a few years ago was a key organiser in protests against the Jack the Ripper museum in East London. The work that I am currently working on for FORM brings these two worlds together, which I am really interested in seeing how it pans out.