Previously featured Photograd, Joanne Coates, has told us about her inspiring and ambitious talk at this years Love Arts Festival in Leeds. We're pleased to share with you her thoughts upon this fantastic experience and hope that it can encourage graduates alike.
Love Arts is a yearly festival held in Leeds combining the secular worlds of Art and Mental Health which takes place every October. I often find that work that comments, even in the vaguest of terms, on Mental Health is instantly adhered to the pile of the ‘Other’. Having heard and been to previous events at the festival I really wanted to part of the celebration. The festival aims to get people talking about mental health by sharing creativity. I feel people gravitate towards London to have their shows, but I’m really interested in opposing movements and what these can create. Public art works seem to fail for both artists and the public so often, I’m really interested in spaces that challenge the status qou.
‘One does not get lost but loses oneself’ was an exhibition of my body of work Liznojan addressing stigmas, talking about how the work is almost secondary to the practice of wandering. The actual photography is just a tool, to capture the experience of the wandering and bodily connection to nature. The more I get immersed in the act of experience I challenge and think about what exactly photography is today.
Wharf Chambers is a venue in the heart of Leeds, it’s a community, a setting for gigs, a bit lefty and exactly the kind of laid back atmosphere I personally appreciate. The space was challenging as it is used for other events regularly. I didn’t want it be a jarring experience but more complimentary to the events. I used one of the walls as people first come in the space. Wharf Chambers were really relaxed and let me use the space how I wanted exactly which was a huge relief, so thank you to them! The actual texture, materiality, and layering complimented the tiled wall massively so I was really happy with the results. The space has very DIY anti-white cube ethos so again, fitted really well with the experience I want people to have with the works. A key point about my work is that it is democratic so it just feels a little hypocritical to make it closed off by using an inaccessible space.
An accompanying artist talk took place at the space. A varied audience came of musicians, poets, spoken word artists, photographers, students, chemists, businessmen and painters, that really excited me. I cannot express enough the importance to me of cross collaboration, not only in the arts but much broader than that. It’s one of the things I feel is completely wrong with photography; its lack of ability to see beyond itself holds the medium back in so many ways. To have this event where it was possible to hold conversations was one of my biggest achievements to date. The talk also enabled people to discuss the work and for me to think in new ways. Cross collaboration is such a great tool for our self worth, and for a bigger perspective on the world. How is it that we can even contemplate to make a comment when we only speak to those within our industry and thus remain very insular.
I am what can best be stated as a shy and private person. So this talk was a bench mark, I had made this body of work Liznojan and was hiding something about it for so long. Whenever I spoke about it, I would be really opaque. It came to the point where a festival such as this really helped me to be able to speak about the meaning of my work. I touched on it briefly in, Exclusive!, the Leica Blog. To stand up and say words I hadn’t expressed before was important, I feel the we are constantly losing touch with the experience of bodily learning and am fascinated by photography's ability or lack there of, to provide the audience a connection to place. My work looks at that unnerving place that is provided through experience with mental heath problems and anxiety, see there I said it, it’s really not so hard to express. I’m really inspired by literary successes that have touched me; such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dosteovesky, the ability to allow others a direct engagement and experience in a almost poetic visual manner is something I strive for. Empathy, tragedy and a sensual exploration of landscape are all vital components.
I spoke for 50 minutes which was a real challenge. The talk was about a personal experience with photography and mental health. It was really nerve wracking putting yourself out there on the line. Everyone was so positive and understood what I was saying. The questions I got were really productive and made me think in different ways. In fact, from the talk one of the attendees was a spoken word artist and poet, Hannah Batley. From our conversations that night we are going to make a collaborative piece of work challenging the limitation of our separate mediums. The talk was highlighted by the Made in Leeds team on the news that day, which again I think is a way I hadn’t thought about reaching different audiences before.
Public speaking for me, is a huge fear so to be asked to do a second talk at Love Arts Conversation conference was invigorating, but I was slightly daunted by the one hundred people which is the biggest audience I’ve spoken to. I did have a rabbit in headlights moment, but facing my fears and challenging myself is important to me.
A huge thank you to Linda, Tom and the rest of the team at Love Art Leeds Festival 2016 for inviting me to help open the conversation. I hope that other graduates can also learn that just because you aren’t necessarily great at something doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Talk to people, get support. Because of Photograd I have a great support network with Jason Carden and Christopher Mear, who actually travelled miles to come along to the talk. Bounce ideas off these people and don't be afraid to admit what your fears are.
This is an incredibly personal project that has taken place over four of the most difficult years of my life. The opportunity to discuss issues around art and mental health was vitally important to me. There is still a huge stigma attached around mental health. The world I encounter through these walks is overwhelmingly harsh and breathtakingly beautiful, I use photography as a tool to visualise my bodily connection to the land. It’s a subtle reminder, that something deeper can come from the landscape, a deeper understanding of who we are and where we come from.