The hour has changed and with the extra daylight comes the optimism of the approaching summer months. This summer is going to be a little different with a huge number of cultural events in and around Weymouth during the Olympics and Sherborne House Arts is involved in this proliferation of visual art.
Following a research based 5-day walk from Sherborne to Portland undertaken at the end of last year, Simon Callery, the artist selected for the Inland Sealand project, is now focusing on specific geological sites in order to develop artwork. An example of a site is the Inferior Oolite exposure at Quarr Lane, Sherborne.
In another fascinating project, SHA has commissioned a portrait for this summers b-side multi-media arts festival in Weymouth. The selected artist, London based, Wendy Elia, paints portraits that are frequently controversial and confrontational. Elia’s work looks at extremes and she has chosen to do a portrait of Weymouth based triathlon athlete, Rowena Taylor, who subjects her body to extremes through training for her sport.
Weymouth has not only been in the news because of the upcoming Olympic sailing events but also for local and national reaction to Richard Harris‘ public sculpture, Jurassic Stones, sited at the bottom of the new Weymouth Relief Road. These odd shaped boulders are examples of what geologists call ‘concretions’. They come from a layer of sandstone known as the Bencliff Grit that formed about 155 million years ago during the Jurassic period. There has been unease in some quarters about the combination of materials, stainless steel with stone, and the inevitable complaints about how much it cost. The Dorset Echo ran a feature in which they asked some local people for their reaction, giving a fairly balanced number of responses, though I suspect that at best the population of Weymouth is disinterested.
However it does raise the issue of the difficulties encountered when artists are subject to the accountability, which comes with public funding. Richard Harris kept a fairly low profile during the planning and making of Jurassic Stones because he sensed that there was the potential for local criticism. Increasingly artists need to extend their practice into areas which demand commissioned or site specific publically funded work in order to survive financially. It has always been the case that making a living solely through gallery shows has been an option for just a very few of the most popular artists. The others have to supplement their incomes through other activities such as teaching, writing, curating or public art
Alex Hartley’s immensely ambitious Nowhereisland project, to take an Island, some of the material for which originated in the Arctic, and tour it around the Southwest coast during the Olympics, is another public project. One of 12 Artist Taking the Lead projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad it is funded by Arts Council England. The approach of the project website and its ability to engage with the public is masterly and essentially allows Alex to get on with the artwork side of the project undistracted. He is currently restoring an old wooden panelled horsebox which, once converted, will travel by land alongside the island and become the Nowhereisland’s Embassy housing paperwork and artefacts. This archive will be accessible to everyone, but will be fronted by someone other than Alex Hartley allowing the artist to retain his visual anonymity.
If you have a point of view on how much artists should have to do outside their normal practice to justify their funding, join the debate. But have the arts, like everything else got to a stage where they are so accountable that doing workshops, public engagement activities and totting up audience figures is, like doing a tax return just part of what they have to do to survive?
© Fiona Robinson