in Response to Covid-19
Art Confined- Norfolk Street project information and exhibition interpretation
“Art Confined, Norfolk Street; social art with social distance”
A digital exhibition inspired by, and documenting, socially engaged, craft project “Art Confined”
Devised and delivered by Lady Kitt
Produced by Sarah Li, Commissioned by Norfolk Street Arts
Created through collaboration with co-authors:
Sofia Barton. Cat Hurst, Tee McGahey & Dylan. Kev Howard. Deborah Nash. Jan Secret. Edwin & Sarah Li. The Witches Child. Riki Tsang.
Through this project, a small group of people living in the North East during the global COVID 19 pandemic, have used art to record and respond to challenges (and unexpected joys) we’ve experienced during this extraordinary time.
Horrific social inequalities have been starkly illuminated by the pandemic. In the UK, ONS estimates 2 in 3 people who have died from COVID19 were disabled, white people are 4 times less likely to die from COVID than black people, high infection rates in the North East have been exacerbated by historic, endemic and structural inequalities. There have also been positive impacts from the pandemic, particularly relating to our relationship with, and care for, the natural world. By working together through the Art Confined project, we have shared our stories, made art and offered support, friendship, hope and strength to one another, managing to stay connected, despite being socially distanced.
These are some of the things that have happened as part of the project:
Each person / family/ bubble involved, told Kitt about an object which represented an aspect of lockdown to them and wrote a piece of text about that object
Kitt made small, 3D, wearble sculptures of those objects out of international bank notes and posted each one to the person or family /bubble who suggested it
In our own individual homes, we created performances/ installations including the objects
We documented these with the photographs
We posted the objects back to Kitt to be included in the installation described below
We connected to one another through the project (via email, a Facebook group, telephone conversations, socially distanced photoshoots and chats)
Once the installation has been taken down, each co-author will be reunited with their object which will then be theirs to keep!
The wider Art Confined Project has been supported through funding from Arts Council England and commissions by Disconsortia (disabled artist led consortium), Durham University and Norfolk Street Arts
Installation created by Lady Kitt at Norfolk Street Arts Gallery, Sunderland, UK Oct 2020
Kitt describes the installation, which forms part of the digital exhibition, as “A secular, shrine to “us-ness”; celebrating our desire to make things different & better. Our collective ability to elicit, exchange, respond, and support, despite finding ourselves physically apart”
At Norfolk Street Gallery, Kitt spent a week creating an installation which includes giant paper sculptures made from 11meter by 2.75 meter sheets of bright pink and purple, recycled paper. The sculptural works are lit from outside, and within, by a variety of lights in shades of blue and white. Some form tower-like structures, others appear to drip from the ceiling, or pour out of the two brick fireplaces built into the gallery walls. Within these large, organic paper forms are hidden tiny, intricately sculpted, 3D objects (described above).
The crafting techniques Kitt uses range from cutting, folding and sticking with minute tools and a magnifying glass, to using their whole body for molding and manipulating the large sculptural forms (a process Kitt likens to dancing with, or cuddling, the paper). These processes (and the different ways they are presented and documented in the exhibition) aim to switch viewers focus from immersive experience to intimate relationship with a single object. Exploring techniques which transforms physical space, without losing focus on the handmade nature of the structures /objects which facilitate that transformation.
“For me, the large paper sculptures, or “shrines” as I call them, represent natural forms like, maybe, stalactites or waterfalls. They are inspired by Catholic shrines I visited as a child in Portugal. These were sometimes set into, or built out of, caves and rock faces. Other times, created around a natural spring or an old tree.
I was always fascinated by the combination of natural settings with incredibly artificial, ornate and gaudy offerings / statues. I loved the way they looked, the atmosphere they invoked and that they had a life all of their own. Growing and decaying simultaneously, both through natural processes and through a series of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of small, individual, human interventions. I was always very moved by the traces people left of their own stories and experiences- soggy, disintegrating, hand written letters or prayers. These seemed to document the strong social and spiritual significance of these places; the beliefs and communities they celebrate, illustrate and support.
A gallery setting (physical or digital) presents challenges in my work, mostly because a lot of what happens in these projects is to do with human connections , or “creative intimacies” as I call them. So my gallery based work is driven by the question: “How can I turn a gallery into an environment which tenderly exposes and fiercely cares for the social stuff that happens in/ through/ because of participatory projects?”
When I started thinking about how to present both; the objects (which are produced during) and the social connections and changes (that happen as a result of) socially engaged projects, I immediately started to think again of those shines. Implicit in them was an invitation to get involved, to leave a votive offering, a pray, to light a candle, to add my hopes and experiences to these collective monuments. And that’s what I hope to create through these works. An environment that encourages exploration, contemplation and participation. A space which (gently) invites you to get involved.”
Lady Kitt, Oct 2020
Why Bank notes?
“Before inviting other people to get involved in a project I think it’s important to considered the “exchange rate(s)” we are working with/to. I like to ask what is everyone giving to it (time, creativity, technical skill, emotional labor, physical resources), what will/ do we want to get out of it and how these exchanges would happen/be formalized? Considerations and processes like these are vital to the success and ethical underpinning of social engaged art. For me, using bank notes is part of giving prominence and value to questions like:
What is the worth of socially engaged art?
What is the use vale of craft in a “fine art” context?
What value do we put on social change / interaction and what is the relationship between that and the value (social or financial) that we put on “art objects”?”
Lady Kitt, Aug 2020
Exhibition curated by Vincent Todd with digital production & curation by Art Matters Now.
The digital exhibition includes:
Photographs of the small 3D paper objects described above
Photographs documenting how co-authors used these objects in their own homes
Texts written by co-authors, about the objects they chose, and about their experiences during the pandemic
Audio content (spoken and musical) created by co-authors to compliment their texts
3D digital scans of an installation Kitt created at Norfolk Street Arts Gallery during October 2020
Video content of Kitt speaking about the projects, BSL interpreted by Riki Tsang
Curatorial Statement by Vincent Todd
Norfolk Street Arts is a curatorial/ artists led organisation. The term curation originates from 'cura' in latin and translates to carer of souls and was originally used as a term for someone who looks after the souls of the parish. Although our understanding of curation today is for contemporary art or musicological practice, Norfolk Street Arts sees it as our role to echo back to that old latin context and to care for artists instead of collections of antiquities, we achieve this through providing space, time and paid opportunities and peer development programmes. The Covid-19 stopped us achieving our core mission, opening to the public, stopping us presenting living artists works and providing paid opportunities to creatives.
Thankfully Arts Council England Response funding has enabled us to try out a brand new approach and develop new collaborative approaches with Art Matters Now and artists in uncharted waters of lockdowns, tiers systems, PPE and uncertain times. This project has enabled Norfolk Street Arts to re contextualise the understanding of our work in a socially isolated post pandemic world and beyond the physical gallery. We have been able to repurpose our main public platform and with Art Matters now we have used technology to bridge Lady Kitt's commission into a permanent exhibition and portfolio in which they can use to present their work to the public for years to come and help develop their own portfolio when applying for future cultural opportunities.
About Lady Kitt
Lady Kitt is a socially engaged maker, researcher & drag king. Their work is driven by insatiable curiosity to explore, share and (gently) insight the social functions of creative stuff. They use paper sculpting & performance to create environments, interactions and adventures. Things like: “The Archive of Friendship” a live-art library of learning disability culture, giant, interactive paper shrines, policy changes & “(small but) FIERCE” an international feminist art magazine for and by children.
Kitt is Newcastle Lead for Social Art Network (UK) & member of global art activism movement Nasty Women (NW), co-convening the NW International Conference in 2017. Their work’s been selected for inclusion in The Institute for Art and Innovation (Germany), “Social Art Award 2019” book. Kitt has recently shown work at Atlanta Contemporary (USA), Saatchi Gallery London (UK) and is currently one of 9 “Constellations 2020-21” artists with UP Projects and Flat Time House (London, UK).
You can see Kitt’s current commission from disabled artist led consortium Disconsortia here: https://www.disconsortia.co.uk/lady-kitt.html
And info about their wider practice here: https://www.lladykitt.com
What is socially engaged art?:
This approach to being creative gets called a variety of things: social practice, participatory art, community art. It typically includes people connecting with one another through, and for creativity, and social change. Kitt calls it “art-with-people”.
Here are some links to examples and more info:
Social Art Network UK https://www.socialartnetwork.org/
Social Art Library: https://www.socialartlibrary.org/
What, or who, is a “co-author”?
This is a phrase often used in socially engaged projects and contexts, it means different things to different people. For us it means “people actively involved in making and shaping both the creative and social aspects of the project”. For more info about how and why co-authors got involved in Art Confined please see: https://www.lladykitt.com/art-confined
What is Live -art?
Performances or events undertaken or staged by an artist or a group of artists as a work of art (Definition from Tate.org website)
What is Craft?
‘For me, craft is about expressing an energy; the energy in the fingers and body and the energies of the heart and mind. The process of making leads to energetic ideas and I personally am never more alive than when these ideas are forming. They are a kind of fuel for life.
‘Craft is connection to materials and history. It allows me to form a relationship with substance, then transform it into another state. With craft I become an alchemist creating artefacts of time. Craft also provides insight to the era of making – it’s like a documentation of materials and social encounters at a certain time in history - as found with craft from my home, Ghana. It can form narratives of communities that are often unheard, overlooked or silenced.’
Both quoted on Crafts Council UK website