Question. How do you distil 2,600 artistic submissions down to a final list of just 22?
Answer. With love, care, and attention.
The London Open is a triennial exhibition with over 80 years of history, taking place at The Whitechapel Gallery. The selected artists, all 22 of whom are working in London, are engaging with topical concerns including the environment, urban changes, technology, representation of race and gender, human relations, and activism. The art forms are varied, from painting through video, sound, sculpture, and performance.
As with any open exhibition, flow can be an issue, but the way the submission invitation to The London Open 2018 had been themed around some of the topics listed above, I felt the level of artistic dissonance on display provided useful contrast, rather than just noise.
There is much to enjoy in the exhibition. I’m often drawn to art which contains a sense of geometry, and there is plenty of that on offer here. The small intricately painted panels by Gary Colclough, which are enhanced with unusually designed, extended frames, are particularly beautiful.
As an older white man (currently 52) trying to understand how to be a better dad, husband, and person, I was particularly moved by the works of Rachel Ara and Andrea Luka Zimmerman. Both artists are exploring relationships and power dynamics. Rachel Ara’s work, titled ‘This Much I’m Worth (The self-evaluating artwork) displays its own value, calculated from a series of algorithms that reflect things such as age, gender, sexuality, race and provenance.
Andrea Luka Zimmernan’s work is a whole room occupied on one wall by a powerful film tracing activism in Newcastle, complemented by a series of posters and other works, including a feminism board game you can sit down and play. There are stories attached to all the pieces of this activism puzzle, I enjoyed listening to Andrea talk about this assembled work, including this flag. made by women at Greenham Common. Apparently, the makers sought and obtained a high court agreement to fly the flag upside down. The contents of this room are very moving, I was able to spend a minute or two in this space alone and the experience brought me to tears.
I got lost for a while in the beauty of Hannah Brown’s work which depicts the English landscape and the tension between town and country.
I spent about two hours wandering about the whole show, and while I’ve shared a few personal highlights here, I get the sense there’s something for everyone at this ambitious, enjoyable, and challenging exhibition.
I caught up with Robert Ordever recently, we enjoyed some art, some great conversation and good food together. One of the things I admire in Robert is his ability to spot, and focus on the positive, on what is going well. He doesn’t do this in a chintzy way, or in a way which is blind to other things which need attention, Robert’s approach is simple, and genuine. I appreciate him very much.
We shared stories of our recent adventures, and what Robert helped me realise, is that I’ve been involved with some great projects this year. I don’t like to shout about what I do yet Robert helped me realise I can reflect and share in a suitable way. I’m writing this as a way of reminding myself of some excellent work, thanking those people who support me, and reviewing what I’ve been up to this past year. In case you’re worried, this is not a prequel to a ‘Predictions for 2018’ post, I wouldn’t do that to you!
Customer and Employee Experience : Smith+Co & eNett
I spent a week in Melbourne Australia, delivering some workshops designed cocreatively to join some of the dots between the customer and employee experiences. I’ve long believed that the two are intertwined, and for the customer to feel good about their relationship with an organisation, those working there have to feel that too. This work was the culmination of a couple of months of designing and delivering, and it was great fun. The client was full of energy and pace – they had a great eye for design, and though they stretched us, they looked after us really well too. Our key objective was to help move the customer’s net promotor score in the right direction, and we exceeded their expectations which was lovely. Equally lovely was the chance to explore a city I’d not visited previously, and catch up with a few old friends. What an amazing start to the year. Thank you to Flora Marriott, Tim Wade, the folks at eNett, and to Carole and Keira for encouraging me to slightly extend my stay.
Neil Usher is a fellow artist and mischief maker. He approached me with a request, could I step in at a week’s notice and take the after lunch slot at the forthcoming Corenet conference in London? Neil’s a good friend so I accepted, put the phone down, then had a mild panic about how I might approach the subject of resilience, the theme around which the event was based. On the day I gave a very short talk which explored the main subject from three approaches:
Coping With Loss
Community and Creativity
The Beauty of Impermanence
I stepped so far out of the comfort zone bubble I thought I was going to suffocate at times, and of course, I didn’t. I survived, and on reflection – this piece of work now represents a pivotal moment for me. It was the first time I’d been seen in public with my art and was instrumental in helping me realise that I am, in fact, an artist with a fascination for organisational and people development, not the other way around. Thank you Neil, and the audience at Corenet.
The Art of Innovation : Sponsored by Herman Miller
Mark Catchlove and I have a long standing relationship – both as client/customer, and as friends. We also share a curiosity in exploring how we make work better, and it was this shared curiosity which enabled a series of Art of Innovation sponsored events to take place this year. I partnered with Stephanie Barnes and Phil Dodson for this work, which included:
Live painting in Euston
A creative workshop hosted by BDG in London on election night
A two-day deep dive workshop into creative practice in Berlin
A creative workshop hosted by Babbel in Berlin
This was a fascinating body of work, touching on diverse subjects including what it means to be creative at work, playfulness, mindfulness, creative practice, and more. The work informed my artistic and facilitation practice and was a great learning and doing experience. Thank you to Mark Catchlove, Andy Swann, Stephanie Barnes, Phil Dodson, Antje Hein, Hermann Hafele, and everyone who came along to help us explore.
My friend Niki put me in touch with Daniel Barnett, a barrister who runs the HR Inner Circle. It was a very kind introduction which led to me talking to a conference full of HR people about art and creativity, and how we can use these things to make work, and life in general, better. The conference itself was very well facilitated by Daniel – people I spoke to felt welcomed and included. A good atmosphere was created and I was given the opportunity to build on and speak about the earlier work done at Corenet and with Herman Miller et al, and integrate my free art project into the mix. Thank you Niki, Daniel and everyone who came to the event.
Saint Gobain International Forum : Gameshift
I met Chris and Philippa from Gameshift toward the end of last year. Two lovely people having interesting adventures with successful, curious clients. Together with a couple of associates, Jess and Beatrice, I spent three hectic days working with Gameshift at a senior leadership event in Berlin. During that time, Jess, Beatrice and myself delivered all manner of artistic collaboration and output. Some of it was representational, some abstract. Some of our work was participative – taking and sharing ideas and artistic contributions with those around us. We embodied leadership as a dynamic force, letting it flow to where it needed, rather than rest with a named person. This was a hugely creative expression. Challenging, satisfying and exhausting. Thank you Chris, Philippa, Jess, Beatrice, Valerie and the team at Saint Gobain.
Carshalton Artists Open Studios (CAOS) : Neal and Helena Vaughan
I took part in my first artist open studios event this year. Our house was open to all for two weekends, and we filled some of it with my art, and the ongoing story of the free art project. This was a fascinating time, occupying space with my artistic work – greeting strangers and friends, showing people round or not as the case may be – I tried not to be pushy! I made a commemorative short run print series for the festival and learned so much about what it means to be an artist in my community. Thank you Neal and Helena for including me. Thank you to all my fellow artists and everyone who came to visit. Special thanks to Carole and Keira for being OK with our house open to all for two weekends.
Creative Practice : Walt Disney Company
I first met Jose Franca on Twitter. We stay in touch – meeting up from time to time in galleries, and occasionally over a G&T. Jose called me over the summer asking for help. He was working with a team of people immersed in strategy and planning. The work they were doing was necessary, and quite cerebral. Could I help unleash some of the team’s latent creativity – get them out of their heads and into their hands? We spent a little tie talking, most of the time making. My observations included some wonderful silence as people worked, times of laughter, playfulness, relaxation, sharing what feels important, reflection, and more. This work really amplified a key learning point for me – creative thinking is often what I get asked to include in my work – and the real power lies in blending thinking and practice. Thank you Jose and the team at Disney.
Live Painting : Workplace Trends
Building on the success of the Saint Gobain event, I took easels, canvases, brushes and paints to London to live paint at Workplace Trends. Workplace Trends is organised by Maggie Procopi and Nigel Oseland, both of whom I’ve known for a while now. Their events are often a little different from your run of the mill conferences, and they’ve kindly supported some creative collaborations between myself and Neil Usher before now – how would this one work? I had an excellent day, listening to speakers and interpreting their work into artistic output. It was great fun, a real challenge (fear of the blank canvas), and the work stimulated some lovely conversation. I loved being a part of this, thank you Maggie, Nigel and everyone at the event.
Future Workplace : NATS
I’ve known Debbie Sanders for a few years, we don’t see each other much and we do stay in touch from time to time. A couple of months ago I received a call from Debbie which led me to some really interesting work with National Air Traffic Services. The organisation wants to think and plan ahead to what a future workplace looks and feels like, taking into consideration a wide range of needs. Function, form, purpose, aesthetics, behaviours, interactions, a real broad sweep. They want to do this inclusively and creatively, so we gather together, and explore a series of questions. We do this in a less than usual way, starting by setting the mood and tone together, then we make work designed to help us get to know each other better. We share food together, and we talk and make some more, a lot more. Together we create a huge body of work, full of ideas, art, doodles, sketches, maps, lists, icons, and more. We facilitate lightly, trust the process, trust each other, and get on with it. Shortly before this event I read Meg Peppin’s excellent post about OD and facilitation design, reflected on it and integrated some of her thinking into my work. Meg and I have worked together a few times, she is very thoughtful and considerate and I see her holding space for people to think, feel and act. Powerful stuff. Thank you Debbie, Jo, Darren, Sean, Meg, and everyone who got stuck in so enthusiastically.
Enjoyable Life Series. What’s Your Story 2017 : Yetunde Hofmann
At a meeting with Yetunde earlier this year – I shared some of my story around the free art project, and Yetunde kindly asked If I would be a part of an event she was running later in the year. For anyone how has yet to meet her, Yetunde has a kind enthusiastic way of encouraging folk to say yes (many more people have since shred this observation with me) and so it was that on Friday 8th December, I was one of the many people who took part in the first ‘What’s Your Story?’ I can honestly say I’ve never been to a conference like it. Several things stood out to me. The stories, and the tellers of those stories, had power, authenticity, and diversity the like of which I have not seen at any other event. I often find myself in discussion with conference organisers highlighting a lack of diversity and inclusion in their speaker line up. Not this time, this time it was a joy to be part of a genuinely diverse group. I enjoyed that hugely, and it served as a reminder that I need to keep raising this as an issue, until far fewer older white men like me are given air time at the expense of others. I live painted at this event too, though not much as the stories I heard were just so absorbing. Thank you Yetunde, all the story tellers and everyone in the room.
We Are All Artists : Free art
I could go on for ever about the free art project. A simple idea about making and giving away art, started in April 2016, and persisted with ever since. I’ll cover this over at my artsensorium site in more detail. Suffice to say for now – this project is transformational. Thank you to everyone who voted for me at our recent community awards, and thank you to every single person who has searched for the free art – whether you are a finder or not, you help bring this adventure to life and I’m truly grateful.
I’ve done other things besides the above this year, and these are the times where I’ve really felt things shift, excite, challenge, and fulfil. I realise I’ve already rabbited on for over 2,000 words, so if you’re still here, well done and thank you. Thanks again to Robert Ordever for the suggestion I write this. Thanks to Carole and Keira for your unending support and thank you to everyone who has commissioned me over the past 12 months. I have some exciting plans forming for 2018 and if having read this you think we could do good work together too – I’d love to hear from you. I’m always keen to explore ways we can cooperate and help people make work better, together.
Have an excellent break and an adventurous 2018. xx
At short notice, Neil Usher asked me to give a short talk at Corenet earlier this year. Neil’s a friend, so I said yes, and worried about it later! The event was filmed, and until this weekend, I’d forgotten that the audio/video team sent me an unedited copy of my session. I stumbled upon it while putting together a speaker proposal for an event taking place next Spring, and having cringed my way through it (does anyone actually like watching themselves on playback?) – I thought I’d share it with you too, I hope you find it useful. The clip clocks in at just over ten minutes, so you might want to grab a beverage of your choice before you start watching.
Footnote. This was the first time I shared a stage with some of my own original artwork.