Daniel Newton: Final Comments

Image above: Spotlight Vison Machines, Parson Cross 2013

Daniels practice focuses on an 'art-viewing experince' as a potential opportunity to engage an audience and for that indidvudal to be more than just a passive viewer.  When he first approached this programme his intention was to "produce a body of work that was wholly and uncompromisingly specific and relevant to Parson Cross; something so rooted in the dynamics of life on the estate, that it would lose all sense of worth and significance if transferred elsewhere."  After much consideration, discussion with mentors and theoretical mental agonising he made somewhat of a u-turn!  by brigning a piece orginally devised for teh VANTAGE Art Prize in Leeds althoguh to be fair he also devised 2 other 'bespoke' works.

As Daniel explains..."Whilst I was quite sure that I didn’t want to work one-to-one or with small groups, the wider ‘community’ suddenly became increasingly broad and complex. I began to consider the Parson Cross community as purely geographic, with several wide-ranging social groups existing within it- communities within communities. With this realisation, the notion of hyper-specificity or highly referential work surrounding the area as a whole became overly generalised. As such rather than examining the entanglements communities, I began to focus my attention on ‘people’, detached from their social roots, the people of Parson Cross. In this way, the work would be specific in that it exists between people, and has an ephemeral situational relationship with the estate. With this in mind I decided to produce several small-scale interventional projects that people (everyone and anyone) could stumble upon. I became interested in ‘engagement’ in a subtle, playful and gestural manner, works that functioned as momentary curiosities, distracters and happenings. Each of the three projects that actually survived to the stages of production (!) examined this dynamic differently, particularly in terms of my own direct involvement, critiquing the relationship between the artist, the audience and the objects themselves."

The three pieces were:

Spotlight Vision Machines a stall of anti-peripheral goggles set up outside the Learning Zone and distributed to people.

Find Us, Keep Us wooden mannequins dotted around the estate, some with Felix Gonzalez-Torres sweets. Placed in groups and individually.

Talk Stations string telephones with plates of sweets. These stations functioned as constructed situations/environments in which people could sit and engage in a conversation across a string telephone

As this was an action resrch project the artists were requried to reflect on their actions and consider if they were successful and what they might learn form them.  In Daniels case he indicated that "I learnt that engagement does not necessarily need to be between the artist and the audience, and that it can sometimes be more interesting and imponderable when it exists purely among people. When sat in the square outside the learning zone wearing a pair of anti-peripheral goggles whilst giving them out for free, people talked to me for sure, but I particularly enjoyed the way they then discussed it among their peers and friendship groups, inviting others over to share in what was a momentary disruption to the end of the school day. Having transferred the work from the Vantage Art Prize in Leeds, I was interested to work within a different audience and setting. I found that people were far less accepting, and more cautious. In this way I felt that people were more intrigued; not everyone came over, but the vast majority stopped and looked. Whilst I am most interested in the moment of encounter and the social politics that unfurl in process of forming a relationship with artworks I also learnt that this does not always need to be observed or measured. I have realised that speculation can be enough. With the wooden mannequins, most were taken within minutes, but I didn’t need to see that to know the work had been successful, as was the case with the string telephones when a gentleman in SOAR came over to express his enthusiasm before I headed out to install them. It has almost been refreshing that, whilst this has been a focussed project, the work was not enjoyed as ‘art’. It was uncompromisingly made as art, but has each time been received as a playful and curious situation."

"My research question asked if it is possible for work to attract ‘engagement’ through its own being and presence rather than it being promoted by the artist, actively seeking participants. Can my work be simultaneously socially engaged and furtive or hidden? Whilst a yes or no answer on the surface, (this was achieved with the aforementioned works), it becomes a more complex notion when the function and purpose of the work is examined in greater detail. One of the most valuable aspects of this programme was my mentorship from Kate Genever, in which we discussed the idea that if the work is successful, what does it do?"

And when asked to refelct on the programme as a whole and how it might have been of benefit he responded as follows: 

"The programme is difficult- but I strongly think it should be- it is difficult purely due to the nature of socially engaged practice. Throughout the entirety of the year, I felt incredibly supported by Rachael, all of the mentors and my peers Elisa, Paul and Frances; there is a great core and social network at the heart of the bursary at Yorkshire Artspace. I particularly appreciated all of the group meetings as well as the opportunity for further mentorship and group crit sessions. There was always someone to feed back to and reflect upon the work with.  But the work is tough- it’s not a gallery public or even a city centre crowd. For me it was a public with whom I had no previous experience and very limited encounters. It was very easy to feel like an outsider artist- a stranger. However I feel it is this uncertainty and sense of unknowingness that makes the programme so intellectually stimulating. I was able to make work that acknowledged this relationship of social difference, work that I feel was playful but matured; gestural but considered. The programme is challenging (and subsequently rewarding) both academically and creatively, as I feel, it should be.  Art isn’t easy. Personally if it was I would have probably gotten bored and moved on. It’s really difficult and constantly evolving. That’s how I learn and that’s why I love it."

Daniel Newton 2013