Resident Artists | Wright & Vandame
Josh Wright (b.1993, High Wycombe) and Guillaume Vandame (b. 1991, New York), collectively known as Wright & Vandame, live and work in London. Central to their practice, the artists explore the possibilities of collaboration and audience engagement through lively participatory art, performance, photography, video, sculpture and installation. In particular the artists are especially interested in interrogating questions of authorship and ownership, areas of expertise, and the role of artist. Their practice is often about facilitating social situations whereby participants can have an active role in the outcome of the work – whether in an exercise class or sharing a meal. These situations are always free and the artists aim to work with a range of different audiences which can coexist within one community. In this way, their art is grounded in utopian aspirations and an earnest desire to create meaningful social change by working with diverse individuals in different ways.
For Taking Part, artist collective, Josh Wright & Guillaume Vandame, will be working site-specifically and collaboratively with the residents of Railton Road.
Beginning in July 2017, the artists will host a series of free workshops for the residents exploring personal histories and identities. These weekly workshops will include discussions, walking tours and photography sessions. Following the workshops, the artists will work collaboratively to host a Street Party in September 2017.
‘Workshop for Railton Road Residents’
Free to all residents of Railton Road
Taking Part artistic residents, Josh Wright and Guillaume Vandame, warmly welcome local residents of Railton Road to take part in a series of photography workshops at Photofusion in Brixton.
The hands-on workshops will focus on Railton Road and invite participants to share their personal histories, exchange ideas, and celebrate its past, present, and future.
Each workshop will take place on Saturdays from 2 to 4 pm from 1st July 2017 to 5th August 2017. Refreshments will be served. No photography experience is needed. Just bring yourselves!
To RSVP or for any queries please email the artists at [email protected]
What is Never Far Away about?
Never Far Away began as an exploration of the changing landscape of London. We loved the proximity of Railton Road to Photofusion, how this tiny strip of land in the heart of Brixton could be so close to the gallery and richly complex as an unassuming site with associations to the Brixton Riots and a variety of other social and political movements we discovered along the way.
One of the initial aims of the project was to document the various histories of Railton Road through photography and create a street party in collaboration with residents. Through our work with the residents, the street party as a single event became too sensitive as an idea to realise, for example, deciding where to do it and how it could make a meaningful contribution to the community. These concerns inspired us to take the idea of a street party and organise a live photography trail on Railton Road with four partner organisations — Brixton Pound Cafe, Connect & Do, Brixton Advice Centre and 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning — with work by ourselves and participants alongside the month-long exhibition at Photofusion. In essence, Never Far Away is about looking at Railton Road with a fresh perspective, examining the impact of its previous histories and confronting the realities of living on the street now, while challenging conventional methods of experiencing or displaying photography as a fine art and investigating the possibility of art to create social change.
How did you engage participants?
It was important to us for the project to be as democratic and inclusive as possible. In the early spring 2017, we wrote and hand delivered letters to every resident on Railton Road and created additional flyers and letters for local businesses and charities. These initial letters introduced us as resident artists with Photofusion, acknowledging and embracing our status as outsiders in the community and asking residents to share their stories and experiences of Railton Road at a series of workshops at Photofusion in the summer. In the run up to the workshops, which began in July and continued through August, we initiated conversations with many local businesses, charities and community centres as possible in the hope to attract a wide range of participants. Some of these exchanges were fruitful and we were able to get a delicious carrot cake for our first workshop donated from Blackbird Bakery, based on Railton Road, which was an encouraging start. Ultimately, we found that it was usually more successful when we had direct conversations in person with residents and new participants would come along to future workshops.
Tell us about the methodologies or approaches you used to work with participants?
We loved how we could transform Photofusion into a social space akin to the interdisciplinary sites on Railton Road like the mythological 121 Centre we learned about though our research. However, once the workshops started with the walking tours and discussions of archival imagery, it became clear we were adopting an overly pedagogical discourse when approaching the local community and we soon realised that we weren’t capable of being authorities on the history on Railton Road. By being open with the residents about the limitations in our knowledge, we had the joy of creating an open dialogue with the participants and filling in some of these gaps. It was also important to be as hospitable and welcoming to the participants because they were incredibly generous with their time and brave to share their stories. We were grateful that there was money in the budget to have refreshments and snacks at all of our workshops and then later on have the support of Becky, Paul, Richard and Sol at Photofusion and Parallax to coordinate a series of intimate, pizza-fuelled dark room sessions with our participants in November and December 2017. These later sessions were pivotal for us to learn more about traditional methodologies for analogue photography, a rare resource in our digital world which distinguishes Photofusion from other photography centres in the UK, and created some of the most lively conversations on the final outcomes of the project.
What has surprised you about the work created during the residency?
This project has been full of surprises! As an emerging artist collective we were thrilled to be chosen for our first artistic residency alongside some really talented and original artists and we have learned a lot throughout the whole process. One adjustment we had to make early on was to be open to change and allow enough flexibility within the project for opportunities to present themselves and the schedules of our individual participants. While these connections are sometimes idealised in movies and pop culture, it takes time to cultivate meaningful relationships in a new community and it is about letting the participants have their autonomy and their voices, in whatever form, have a direct outcome in the project rather than imposing a fixed idea as artists. We were thrilled that we had such a positive response from the local community, especially our partner organisations for the live art trail and Brockwell Art Services to help frame the work, and how our participants were accommodating of each other’s schedules, interests and levels of expertise. It meant a lot to have their commitment to take part in the project from the early workshops until the opening night of the exhibition. Through our residency new friendships flourished, for examples, two of our participants who were both from Germany met each other for the first time, while one participant, Leah Hargreaves, is now the community coordinator for the Brixton Pound Cafe, managed by another participant, Lucy Cava.
We were surprised by how much the area has changed culturally and socially in just the past decade and because of these changes, even though we were outsiders, many of our participants, who were also new to Railton Road, were learning new things about the very road they live on, even sharing some of our stories from our walking tours with friends and families. Railton Road changes every day and within the duration of the residency we witnessed some local business like the Staff of Life close down and simultaneously the opening of the restaurant, Llewelyn’s. As well, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that one of the stark realities of living on Railton Road is that even residents can feel like strangers in their own neighbourhood and want to move out; our residency showed that it is vital to have local community centres and spaces like the Dexter Adventure Playground, Ask Erwin, run by another one of our inspiring participants, Terry Gorczynska, the Brixton Pound Cafe, Connect & Do, Brixton Advice Centre and 198 Contemporary Arts & Learning, well funded and relentlessly protected by the government to stay open to the public. This might sound obvious but these community spaces help build communities: they offer invaluable services from legal advice, creative workshops to help with mental health issues to a delicious meal and a place to call home.
Without them, there is no sense of community beyond yet another wine bar.
What challenges did you face and how did you deal with this?
We are really grateful Photofusion and the panel of judges including Gina Glover and Wendy Ewald could see the potential in us at an early stage in our artistic practice. As if it isn’t difficult enough being emerging and socially engaged artists, it’s very rare to find residencies as an artist collective and there should be more opportunities and funding from the Arts Council England and other sources to accommodate this expanded interdisciplinary practice.
In an area undergoing a massive regeneration and gentrification, one of the challenges wefaced as artists was whether or not we were we contributing to these problems or highlighting them? We had to work around the challenges of being outsiders in thecommunity and integrate ourselves where possible, for example, attending a service at the Temple of Truth, eating at the local cafes and restaurants, speaking to residents, approaching local organisations, and getting a sense of what the road is like now. It is also important to note that as artists born in the early 1990s, many of Railton Road’s most pivotal moments of history happened outside of our lifetime, so we had to work around the limitations of our own lived experience and find out this information through secondary research and conversations with residents, at least the few who are still alive and based in the area. There are possibly infinite ways to document one street and all would be equally valid; it was about figuring out a visual language which worked with our interests in our lives and the world at the present and acknowledging that we couldn’t talk about everything.
How do you select and communicate these stories for future generations?
Aesthetically speaking, there is often this misconception about socially engaged art as something less than fine art with its associations with community art and this is something we want to subvert as artists working with a DIY aesthetic and then elevate with a certain slickness and high quality of production and curation. We really wanted to use this residency to push ourselves and we feel we achieved these aspirations with the final exhibition and offsite exhibition trail, a risk which really paid off!
How do you think you will take your experience of Taking Part into your future
We have learned through the residency and mentorship the importance of a grassroots approach for any kind of art making, questioning where and how something is made, the language used, and letting the aesthetic organically develop from that investigation. Simply put: What are you trying to say with your work of art? It’s interesting for us to consider the role of the artist and new methodologies for audience engagement. The residency gave us more insight into some technical aspects of photography and a hands-on opportunity to lead a series of workshops, which we hadn’t experienced before in our practice and overlapped with taking part in the socially engaged Associate Artists Scheme and City Club at MK Gallery. We hope that all of these skills learned can easily be transferred to other projects and opportunities in the future, no matter where we are, and we know we are never far away to return to Railton Road with new ideas and collaborations.