(less than) 1 Year On - Ania Bas

image: Walking Reading Group, photography Saioa Olmo 

What have you been doing since the Yorkshire Artspace Residency in Parson Cross?

The residency threw up many new thoughts and ideas. I have started working with text on a new level and definitely heavily questioned my position as an artist in the area of work broadly called ‘social practice’. That led me to work on INTEARACT project commissioned be Elbow Room in Cardiff where in early 2013 I organized Reading Group on Participation that allowed me and a group of practitioners based in Wales to read and to discuss texts from books that were sitting on our shelves but there was never enough time to do so.  I am sure many people can relate to that.  Theory books are not something that are easy to read on a bus or before going to bed.  It is hard to find time to digest them.  The idea for the group was exactly that, create space where books can be digested, talked about, explored in the context of individual’s experiences.  The Cardiff commission allowed me also to explore the idea of co-writing a method that I am developing further through a number of smaller works that usually take workshop format. Co-writing will be featured in early November at a conference in Manchester where I plan to with the entire audience to collective write a story during one day.

The idea of the reading group thanks to the involvement of Simone Mair a curator and cultural producer mutated into The Walking Reading Group on Participation that we now co-run in London. Our first Spring 2013 edition was supported by Gasworks and The Showroom and very well attended. So currently we are preparing to Autumn 2013 edition that will take place in October in four East London venues: Bow Arts, Whitechapel Gallery, Iniva and Open School East.  I hope there will be a scope to take this group outside of London and we are at the early stages of planning it with a couple of organizations outside of the capital.

I haven’t stopped writing fiction and since completing PX Story I have created a short story for a café Hunt & Darton. The story called You Dirty Spoon! is engraved on 24 teaspoons and every two teaspoons create a mini-dialogue and all 24 teaspoons together tell as many different stories as there are readers as they are not numbered.

Currently I am working on a new piece of work in Cardiff, this time commissioned by CAAPO (Creative Assault Art Produciton) and it is going to have a form of a text again, but it is in very early stages!

Since January I have been also working on a story inspired by zone 3 in London where I live. This work doesn’t have a deadline looming, there is no curator involved or any other external forces so I can see the work developing slowly whenever I have time to fit it in between my other commitments.

Finally, I have decided to go to school and I am pleased to say that I am one of the associates of Open School East, an art school and communal space launching in September 2013, in De Beauvoir Town, East London. The school is centred on cooperation and experimentation and the initiative is set up to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and skills between artists, local residents and neighbourhood organisations.

Is any of this a direct result of your experiences/work/ideas during that time?

All of it in some way is. The reading group was definitely my response to feeling out of my depths during the residency, feeling that I needed more theoretical grounding to understand my own position within the neighbourhood.  The fact that we keep the reading group going probably shows how large are my reading gaps! It is a very selfish project, it motivates me to read!

Working on a story inspired by my own neighbourhood is a direct reaction to a comment from one of the Parson Cross residents that I should look into where I live, not into lives of people who I engage with for a limited period of time.  I don’t agree with a statement that we should only comment on where we are, where we live, but I am willing to give it a go.

Did the residency with Yorkshire Artspace in Parson Cross set you on a new path or influence your thinking in any way?

Definitely! Writing was at the peripheries of my work but never a central part of my practice.  Now pretty much all I do involves text. From a short story on teaspoons, to larger projects looking into locality like the one I am working on in Cardiff at the moment. And I don’t think this would happen without my time in Parson Cross.

At the time of your final evaluation of the residency you made the following statement “Never in the past was I so strongly struck by what my presence is doing to a neighbourhood like Parson Cross – working class, post-industrial, under regeneration, classed as ‘deprived’. This residency made me question my practice on many different levels. What do I do as an artist?, who is benefiting from my work?, who is supposed to engage with me and what for?, how is this engagement influencing people’s decisions and lives?...This residency opened many political and social questions for me.” Are you any closer to any answers or has your thinking developed since then?

I don’t think I have any answers just yet but I am definitely approaching my work in a different way.  I made promises to myself and to my practice that I want to keep. For example I don’t want through my work to make people more ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘creative’.  I think ‘art’ has been looked at through the lens of ‘economic value’ for too long. We don’t even know what ‘art value’ of art is any more.  I don’t know if what I do is or ever was ‘socially-engaged’ or ‘participatory’ but today I am more interested in challenges that living in neoliberal culture brings.  It is worrying that we are all part of it without even realizing it, for example we so happily now measure ‘impact’ and believe that the value of art lies in its social and economic impact. What I want to do is to make work that challenges people’s perceptions. I want to tell stories that tell intricate, nuanced tales and don’t simplify complexity of who we are.

Since leaving Parson Cross Ania Bas was busy with:

• Reading Group on Participation and Co-Writing Club commissioned by Elbow Room, Cardiff  and for more information on the Intercourse Project see www.elbowroomintercourse.blogspot.com

• The co-writing method will be part of the conference in Manchester in the autumn: http://platforma.org.uk/news/announcing-platforma-festival-2013

• The Walking Reading Group on Participation took place in May 2013, supported by The Showroom and Gasworks. Next Autumn edition will take place in October 2013 with the support of Bow Arts, Whitechapel Gallery, Iniva and Open School East. http://aniabas.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-walking-reading-group-on.html

• Would you like to take part in The Walking Reading Group? commissioned by The Showroom in London is a project that responds to the re-projecting (london), a major new commission by Brazilian artist Ricardo Basbaum. http://theshowroom.org/re-projecting/#events

• Writing based activity was part of the Family Day at Tate Britain this summer: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/special-event/big-and-small

• Ania Bas is one of the associates of Open School East http://openschooleast.org/

• Working title: Zone 3, London based fiction work inspired by Ania Bas’ own neighbourhood

• You Dirty Spoon! – a short story engraved on 24 teaspoons commissioned by Hunt & Darton http://huntanddartoncafe.com/2013/07/22/new-visual-artists-edinburgh-fringe-2013/

• A new work developed in response to Roath neighbourhood and commissioned by CAAPO, Cardiff http://www.creativeassault.org/

• Ania Bas will be back in Parson Cross for Off The Shelf Festival delivering a co-writing workshop in Parson Cross library on Saturday Oct 19th 2013, 11am start!