Start by not knowing > SixUnravel

Artist Bronwen Bradshaw invited artist Sue Palmer, Fiona Hingston, Sophie Willoughby, Kathryn John and Shannon Leah Watson (Creative Pathways artist) for the week-long residency at Dove Studio in June, aiming to develop new work for the Art Weeks Festival this year. Here they shared their experiences, challenges and insights of the time together.

Bronwen Bradshaw >

The idea to invite 5 artists to Dove Studios on a week-long residency this June was based on a need to do something experimental: to ‘Start by not Knowing’; not coming with premeditated ideas; not expecting anything. Instead, to encourage an interaction between us all which might lead to collaboration; to interact with the land, and to play with materials ‘found’ here and see what happened. What did happen was a truly joyful and productive time together; a sharing of ideas, grief, perceptions, friendship, and the new title of the residency: ‘SixUnravel’. Oh, and some work to display during the SAW Festival this year.

Key to this success was the Dove Door House, which became our meeting place, safe space, sharing space and café. We started the day here and went round the circle expressing what was going on for us; where we needed help, and also doing some collaborative work led by individual group members. For instance, Sue Palmer asked us to stand in the meadow and slowly rotate 360 degrees over 10 minutes, focusing on what was around us. Shannon Watson had us all hand washing clothes in tin baths using grated soap flakes and washboards in order to explore the natural collaboration of working together in this time-honoured way.

The studio was our other refuge, particularly from the rain – I’m not sure how much rain we actually had as we were so engrossed. It seemed a pretty fine week to me, though others told me it hadn’t been. When you are having fun the weather doesn’t seem to matter at all. And of course; food! Lunch preparation was viewed as yet another collaboration, and we ate increasingly opulently as the week went on. Some people stayed overnight and some went home; either way we managed to keep the thread going (and ‘thread’ was quite a key feature in our work; hence ‘Unravel’).

The week culminated in us all participating in one way or another in a video made on the neighbouring ‘Wild Lea’ field. It features a ‘Wigwork’ and lots of grass, and will be shown in the Door House during SAW, along with other videos and objects made/things written during the residency and beyond.’

Sue Palmer >

I was carrying some thoughts with me when I arrived for the residency ’starting by not knowing’: about growing up in rural Somerset on a farm, in a village. I was thinking about the 1970s and Young Farmers Discos. About agriculture and conservation practices. I was thinking about how ‘dead’ the countryside has become over time as I’ve grown up, with the disappearance of song birds from the hedgerows but how the pheasant has thrived. About how when I go walking, the woodland and field edges are full of pheasants, and feeding stations and bullet shells.  Kathryn had arrived the day before, had gone for a walk and collected six stalks of wheat, and six shot shells; she had laid them out in the meeting space; that became one of my starting points.  

I looked at the grass. At a Labybird that was upside down struggling to right itself on an upturned sink. Could I read a pattern or message in the rabbit poo? What could I see in a black mirror?  

We talked most days for a while in the mornings: about the rural, about class, gender, shooting, hunting, wilding, species, about community past and future, about memory, loss, death, about change.  The Song Thrushes sang. The Barn Owl flew past my window. Fiona saw a Butterfly Orchid and knelt down at its foot. 

I worked at the edges of the field and the meadow.  I worked around the weather and the light. I used my camera. I used a black sheet that Bron found in her rag store.  I drew the shot shell from the pheasant shoot: Super Trap, 7, 24mm.

I used words – a few words are a thing to hang around and I chose these from a book my art pal had given me the day before the residency, by the artist Leanne Shapton. Inside that book was an image of something that had recently appeared in my head, and the words alongside it were: Who is this, who is coming? 

I felt around the desire to make an action that was an appearance, a mystery, a coming in of the unknown.  

Three times I went out to film, and each time was different. I set the camera running. Timing, light, insects. A shaking.

I love collaborating with people and places. But you can’t make it happen.  All you can do is create the conditions that enable it to happen, and hope it occurs. Most of the time, the six artists worked on their own thing, while talking, problem solving and seeking inspiration from each other. Collaboration arose out of the need to find something out, or try something; that is the best kind – it grows out of need, out of ideas. On the last day, we all met in the field to film an action. It was a wonderful unplanned coherence of all the various strands and threads we had been exploring; a powerful but easy collaboration.

By the end of the week, I had grown into the fields and the grass had grown around me. I was so glad to have been there.

Fiona Hingston >

Between June 5 -10 
got my feet wet
watched Agnes with her mirrors
turned 360 degrees, slowly
worshipped a butterfly orchid
chopped coleslaw and roasted potatoes
knitted with pillow case yarn
unravelled rope into three, then three, then three again
ate at a communal table
drove home unhurried at the end of each day
felt emotions rise and slowly settle
tiptoed through a meadow
shared laughter across a room
hung out scented washing out to dry 
enjoyed unknowing company
stared at a circular horizon
formed thoughts into actions
as we all came together on the last day.

Kathryn John >

My experience of the ‘Amazing Space III: Six Unravel’ residency is a deliciously rich meal that I will be savouring for some time to come. Working and living at The Dove in our small community gave way to a deep immersion of conversation, exploration and material interrogation. The open invitation to ‘start by not knowing’ allowed me to traverse and mark my own lines and boundaries, bouncing off the wealth of knowledge, energy and experience of others. I explored making colour with found pigments and materials, text- based site-responsive work and performance. Collaborating boosted my confidence in expressing my ideas and skills and trying new processes. I have come away feeling hungry for more.

Sophie Willoughby >

Exploration, intuition and a time for unravelling thoughts as well as rope.

My time at Dove Arts started with outward observations of the beautiful surroundings of the place that took me in a more inward and personal direction. I feel the residency gave me time for exploration, a chance to try something new and to become more playful with my practice. I found working intuitively both challenging and beneficial, and interesting working with artists from different disciplines.

When I initially read the title of the residency ‘Start by Not Knowing’ I was intrigued by the idea, however when I started I found this concept challenging. 

I feel “Not Knowing” is like searching in the dark for something, but not knowing exactly what you are looking for. Not thinking, thinking, over thinking, learning through doing.

Despite the open brief we formed our own rhythms and routines. We made lunches in pairs, carried out activities together and collaboration followed on naturally through working alongside each other.

At the start of the day we met in the Door House, where we would discuss and reflect on what we had been doing. These daily meetings became a valuable part of the residency, where each person could voice what they were trying to achieve, and these conversations took us in new directions and helped us develop ideas. 

On the last day all of the artists came together to collaborate in the making of a film. This venture started with a simple action of unravelling some found rope. 

‘Unravel’ became a word that cropped up throughout the residency, unravelling rope to unravelling thoughts. Starting from nothing became the process to creating something.

My ultimate inspirations came from exploring the environment collecting natural materials, making observational drawings and capturing anything that caught my eye. Also stories I heard about the Dove, what it means and the sense that is magical to many. 

My final work is a personal reaction, sparked off by unexpected ideas formed during the residency, which I will continue to develop in the future.

Shannon Watson >

Start by not knowing
Start by asking questions
Start by sitting in the door house being hugged by the heat of the fire 
Start by collaborating
Start by knowing someone will be there
Start by learning to knit
Start by teaching someone to knit 
Start by delivering a workshop washing clothes 
Start by conversing about the social life of the resident bees 
Start by filming the wig work in the meadow 
Start by crying
Start by developing trust 
Start by acknowledging home as a feeling, not a place
Start by feeling you’re home 
End by leaving. Saying farewell to the Dove, to the new community formed and the old communities that have passed