Modern Art Oxford: my public residency

Pre – residency research 1

January 5th 2018 – Went down for a visit to Oxford’s Modern Art Gallery to see the space that I would be working in. Met up with Sara Lowes, the Curator for Creative Learning, who commissioned me to work for a week at the Piper Gallery amongst the artwork of Nicolas Party.

Nicolas Party heads (pre-painted)

Fig.1 Nicolas Party’s pre-painted heads.

Fig.2 Invitations for the opening of his exhibition: Speakers.

He had five painted heads that were placed in the Piper Gallery, all had a speaker inside each one of them, hence the title, ‘Speakers’. My residency was to create a response to this work and to work with the public on the theme he proposed.

His exhibition is in itself a response to a random walk around oxford where he found a very masculine presence within the architecture (including plinths of male anonymous heads all with beards). This led him to making his own heads that were female. None of these women were of any one particular person. All were anonymous.

The heads are a nod to the invisible women who have worked in the city who have not been afforded the city’s physicality and memorable presence that focuses on the male counterpart. This is obviously not specific to Oxford, but the architecture is a fundamental part of the visual vernacular of the city itself.


Fig.3 Nicolas Party’s inspirations in the city of Oxford

Fig.4 Nicolas Party’s 5 heads, with speakers set up inside them

Who are these women?

When you arrive into the space where the heads are, you might wonder who these women are. Who are they? What is their story? And, randomly, why do we not know about them? This is all very abstract because these heads are not of specific people. But, they have a presence which alludes to a story, a background, a potential for a memory. They have a stillness and a gaze and individual features that allow you to watch them over time, and to imagine who they could be, and what they did. There is no more a description from the artist than the fact that these heads represent women in general who have all been forgotten: their forgotten/ignored potency, intelligence, their diligence and their intentions.

In this current point in time, more and more stories are being presented (especially within social media platforms) of extraordinary artists, authors, scientists, technicians, doctors, teachers and philanthropists whose names and lives have all dropped off the national radar. Of ordinary people too. The question is, is there enough space in the national psyche to hold them all dearly? We hold space for Picasso, Watson and Crick, Salmon Rushdie et al, and these are all male presences deeply embedded into our daily memories. We might not know all their stories, but we regard them fiercely.

Do we care as a society for making space for other people?

I am wondering how we can create and hold space for other people? Invisible people. People we don’t know yet, and people who have every credential and more to be our national heroes just as much as the ones who are with us already. And even then, they don’t need to be national heroes but daily living beings. People surrounding us all the time, do we see them? Do we allow ourselves to see them?

I feel that I need to create space for the potentiality of memory/perception/story that each of these heads have. A living holding space that changes and thrives with whatever is placed there. Do we as individuals and as a national body have a deep enough capacity to hold space for others? This now goes beyond the gender-isms of this particular situation into other isms such as racism, and class-ism. I want to ask if we can see each other, see beyond our daily lives, and hold space (and/or empathy), not just for ourselves, but for the social conscious.


I have discovered recently that I thrive on the visual (like us all) and not just through thinking sound. I look back onto my instrument (cello) and wonder what it would be like if I take the instrument away from me. How long before i forget how to play? Do I have the capacity to re-use my memories in order to remember to play? Would my body continue to use the memory of its muscles layered over time through my practice, if I remove all visibility and capability of remembering?

Removing the physical brings a new space. It feels different, sensorially and visually. I see a space that I haven’t seen before. I realise, by trying to play, that my bodily gestures and mind/muscle memories have almost entirely relied on the physical dimensions of the instrument. All these gestures/memories that the body holds could be assumed as a kind of language, and by removing the physical aspects, this language seems to lose its roots, and become less rooted, or tied, i.e., it begins to change, or evolve. Chances are that I may see traces of this language root, but maybe not.

Male presence:

We can use the cityscape as a parallel here to the physical, and its architecture is what reminds us daily of what we are used to, and the fact that we don’t question it. With regards to the historical male presence of the city of oxford, has anything evolved since then? When buildings, plinths and statues were built long ago, it is assumed that the culture embedded in the society at the time was visceral in the presence of men. This presented itself in the educational system and the political and social gatherings, and so it presented itself in the visual vernacular of the architecture of the city. I am not here to explain why women’s presence became ignored/limited/not seen/denied, but to find out what I could do artistically to relate to the above. If we took away the buildings/education et al, what is left of the city? Is this new space filled with echoes of the past, is it empty, can it be filled by something new?

Female presence:

We begin by searching for women in oxford’s past education. They are not really seen in the architecture of the city. Their presence is in effect, the opposite of the cello’s physical being, and its male presence, and indeed of the city’s architecture. It’s just not really there. If the Piper gallery was a place newly emptied, or perhaps it began as an empty space where it has not learned its language yet, how can we fill it with new memories? Perhaps over the week, I try to build, layer, connect and weave memories through an audience participation, and root these to the gallery space; to produce a language that is perhaps spatial, physical, public, aural and visual, weaving threads of memory through the space by the building up of communal perceptions.

Memories can be made by the sole act of effort. When someone actively thinks, a memory has already begun to root itself to the time and place where you were. We also know that sound is something incredibly osmotic, and many of our memories are captured by a single melody. Can I do something in the Piper Gallery that makes people think actively, to build new memories and to create sounds that affect the space as much as the people in it?