Sign up for emails

We'll send you a newsletter from time to time. Enter your details below.


Entry #1 Introducing Paul Evans

We are very pleased to announce that Paul Evans will be our resident artist working in the Castlegate area during the course of 2015. His brief is to explore how art, artists and culture can infiltrate and animate a place, and to explore different possibilities and make connections with existing and new communities. There'll be opportunities to meet Paul throughout his residency, and he will be a key part of the Vibrancy Event planned for the area on 20/21 June this year. This project is supported by The Engaged University Programme at The University of Sheffield. Paul will have the use of one of our Exchange Place studios in the heart of the Castlegate area for the duration of this project.

Paul has recently been on our 'ask the experts' panel over at Studio 54, our artist development site. Here is a bit about Paul ahead of his first residency blog:

'Paul Evans originally studied philosophy at the University of Sheffield and has lived in Sheffield ever since. He went on to take a degree in Fine Art (painting) at Sheffield Hallam University, after which he and two friends set up the graphic design company Vertebrate Graphics (now VG), a studio specialising in the outdoor leisure industries. VG continues to be a successful business. After working at VG for over 7 years as creative director, Paul left the company in 2005 in order to pursue an independent career as an artist and has since built up a multi-disciplinary/multi-portfolio practice. Often working in collaboration, Paul has worked with leading academics from Cardiff University, Manchester University and the University of Sheffield. These collaborative projects have resulted in a substantial body of work that often focusses on the relationship between humans, animals and the natural environment. Paul has also collaborated with a number of award-winning poets, perhaps most enduringly on the landscape painting and poetry project The 7 Wonders which is still ongoing. Paul reckons his area of expertise lies mainly in his experience to conceive of, develop and manage numerous projects, often happening concurrently and often with many different creative and non-creative partners involved, which makes him describe his practice as ‘the art of juggling’ Paul has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including the Eyestorm Gallery Award for painting (2007) and was Leverhulme Trust artist in Residence in Cardiff University (2010).'

To find out more about Paul, go to his website here.

Entry #2 Asking For Directions

“It is because Humanity has never known where it was going that it has been able to find its way.” Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist.

Depending on the acuity of your sense of direction, it is not unusual to feel a little lost when first arriving in an unfamiliar area. A map is useful, but sometimes the easiest way to find your way around is to ask directions. We hope, of course, that the person that we ask directions from has a better knowledge of the district than ourselves.

This, of course, is an act of trust.

A sense of disorientation is particularly felt where the urban landscape is in a state of flux. Castlegate is this kind of urban landscape: an area that seems familiar from past experience, but is constantly changing in both shape and form. Although a number of notable buildings remain standing, the visual environment has morphed confusingly during the time that we have frequented it. Occupants have arrived and left and the fascias of commerce have been altered. To cite a recent, and particularly transient, example: where there was once a thriving pop-up café, part of the University of Sheffield ‘Festival Of The Mind’, we now have a ‘meanwhile space’ occupied by a street artist’s installation.

Asking directions might start a conversation about how to use walking, mapping, and thinking about the sensory and physical aspects of being in Castlegate, how to investigate and interpret this space creatively: how to make a space, however changeable, into a place.

So I ask you, do you turn right at the old post office or at the downhill end of Rob Lee’s anamorphic window painting?

Castlegate shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate because it is relatively limited in geographical extent. It is one of eleven Quarters in Sheffield's City Centre. It is bound by Commercial Street and part of High Street to the south, Exchange Place to the east, the road named Castlegate to the north, Angel Street and Snigg Hill to the west. But the area also has a deep, layered presence in time – reaching back, as far as its name will allow, to the site of Sheffield Castle.

One of Castlegate’s previous residents was Mary, Queen of Scots: cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, the formidable Tudor empress whose name was inherited by our own current monarch. It is this historically layered dimension that might cause temporal as well as spatial disorientation when in Castlegate … a kind of chronological giddiness … but it will be no use asking Mary Stuart for directions because she died rather violently in 1587. I do have a feeling, however, that she will need to figure in any serious attempt to ‘illuminate’ the Quarter.

When entering a new area it is common to ask directions and this is how we learn to identify the personal and communal landmarks that we use to fix our relationship to the spaces that we occupy. So the purpose of this blog post is twofold: to state my current feeling of disorientation and to ask you to help me find my way.

Please can you help me to navigate Castlegate through space and time?

What are your experiences of the area, how far back in time does your memory reach?

Can you help me reach back in imagination, to the time of Mary’s incarceration or to the time of the slaughterhouses that once lined the banks of the River Don, or to imagine the Edwardians who once promenaded up that self-same riverbank when it became a riverside walk?

How would you respond creatively to the area, as it is now, in its state of flux?

What kind of picture – or story – will best ‘shine a light’ on Castlegate?

There is no need to be concerned about answering these questions right now – just have a think about how you might answer them. I hope to see you soon in person, so you can tell me then. I’ll trust you to lead the way.

Entry #3 Castlegate Open Community Of Artists (COCOA) & Studio COCOA

In my last blog post I asked for directions.

I am delighted to say that in response to this request I have had numerous conversations that are helping to steer my course through Castlegate past and present.

I have spoken to the sculptor Anthony Bennett who has helped me see Castlegate as a site of confluence – not only the physical confluence of the River Sheaf and the River Don, but also Castlegate as a site of cultural confluence for Sheffield’s diverse communities. Markets have always been meeting places, places of exchange, Post Offices places that serve as collection and distribution points for information and material objects. This is reflected in the place names of Castlegate, in its linguistic DNA – Exchange Place being one, very clear, example.

So I have spoken to the poet AB Jackson about a forthcoming creative workshop (taking place on 23rd May – see for further details) in which we will survey and investigate Castlegate through words, creating a glossary or phrasebook of new words – neologisms – that will illuminate its urban detail through close observation of un-named ‘things’. What would you call a rectangular concrete recess containing flowering dandelions for example? How about a dandeniche? Maybe …we are open to suggestions …

I have also spoken to Bank Street Arts’ writer in residence Suzannah Evans about her psychogeographical investigations of the local area using word-maps, and how she will bring this research into the forthcoming Studio COCOA at the Castlegate Festival in June (see below for further details).

I have spoken to Joe Scarborough about his experience of being a ‘painter within the city’ and of his life on the edge of Castlegate. I have spoken to Jon Harrison and Janet Jennings from Lovebytes about their plans to create a digital workshop for Studio COCOA. I have spoken to Stuart Faulkner about the possibility of staging a performance art piece involving two artists in a ‘street art’ competitive face off … Samantha Galbraith has been helpful in directing my attention to Castlegate’s local history groups (more on this soon) and Professor Vanessa Toulmin, and Rachael Dodd and Jane Elliot from Yorkshire Artspace, have been immensely helpful during discussion reviews of my plans; keeping me on track and focusing my attention on realisable goals!

Conversations build communities, and one of my current aims for this residency is to create a temporary community of artists that will ‘shine a light’ on the Castlegate quarter.

Named COCOA – an accidental but none-the-less pleasingly ‘welcoming’ acronym for ‘Castlegate Open Community Of Artists’ – we will begin this process through a series of workshops for the public and for schools that will take place during the course of my residency. To begin with COCOA workshops will focus on creating work in the lead up to the Castlegate Festival on 20th/21st June.

All of which leads us to Studio COCOA.

After speaking to Steve Pool from the Arts and Humanities Research Council Artist’s Vibrancy Project, we have decided to turn the downstairs of Castle House into Studio COCOA: an open and inclusive artist’s studio where visitors to the festival can participate in a variety of playful and experimental creative activities.

Of course you are all invited.

Studio COCOA will be open from 10am until 4pm on the Saturday 20th and from 11am until 4pm on the Sunday 21st June 2015.

Entry #4 Castlegate Festival

Studio COCOA (Castlegate Open Community Of Artists) opened its doors at 10am on Saturday 20th June. By 4pm on Sunday 21st we had seen over 1,100 visitors - and witnessed an amazing amount of creative interaction! COCOA’s motto is that anyone can be a COCOA artist - and for any period of time - from the few minutes that it might take to make a drawing in our studio to a more prolonged engagement with the COCOA project over weeks or months.

During our ‘pop-up studio' weekend at Castle House, visitors were treated to an exciting menu of activities to choose from and it was great to see people from all backgrounds, ages and levels of ability join in and experiment, take risks and observe elements of real beauty emerge from the chaos of artistic production. Right at the entrance to our 'pop-up studio' was Russ Young, who invited people to make drawings directly onto a layer of watered-down poster paint applied to the windows. It was a really emotional moment for me when Joe Scarborough - who we had invited to Studio COCOA for a conversation/performance - made his own, instantly recognisable, contribution to this drawing. Suzannah Evans, current Poet in Residence at Bank Street Arts, was also near the studio entrance, asking visitors for their personal recollections of Castlegate and recording these onto transparent acetate strips - personalising the city map and adding layers of meaning.

A constant stream of young people helped create a fantastic stop-motion animation with Jon Harrison from Lovebytes that slowly built a chronology of Sheffield from the ice age to the building of Sheffield Castle. This animation ’The Battle of Sheffield’ will be available to view on YouTube soon. Patrick Amber took advantage of a discrete viewpoint beside a large window overlooking Castlegate and invited people to make lively paintings on card to represent street life in the quarter. Cassie Limb's Rippling Realities revealed amazing patterns created by cymatics - or sound waves on water. Meanwhile young people from Edward VII School led a drawing activity that they had devised for themselves - asking visitors to imagine the future of Castlegate. This resonated beautifully with the ReMake Castlegate exhibition organised by The University of Sheffield Department of Architecture.

ARTBOAT artists Soo and Charlie, acting as The Castlegate Guild of Heraldry, helped people create there own unique ‘coat of arms’. The central space was given over to sculpture in card and to artists working with Steve Pool from The Poly-Technic. This was initially occupied by a post-modernist structure created by Steve, but the elements soon got reconfigured by some very young Studio COCOA Artists who noticed the juxtaposition with ReMake Castlegate and decided to challenge the boundaries between sculpture and architecture by creating temporary den structures - a bold conceptual leap but one it worked beautifully in the space … Last but not least Studio COCOA played host to the Pro-Celebrity paint off. This began as a ‘rap battle in paint’ or a ‘alla prima duel' between Stuart Faulkner and Professor Vulcan but soon became ‘open to all comers’.

It was a great weekend and I would like to take this opportunity to thank The University of Sheffield, Yorkshire Artspace and the AHRC for supporting Studio COCOA. Thanks to COCOA artists Russ, Jon, Patrick, Cassie, Rich, Steve, Natasha, Sorcha, Rosa, Soo, Charlie and Martin and to all the other COCOA artists who took part. Special thanks to Joe Scarborough for his amazingly engaging talk. A big thank you to Rachael Dodd and Jane Elliot from Yorkshire Artspace and to Kate Pahl from The University of Sheffield for help over the weekend, thanks to the University of Sheffield Public Engagement Team and, finally, a massive thank you to Professor Vanessa Toulmin for her amazing guiding vision and support.

Paul Evans, June 2015

Entry #5 Where is the art in COCOA?

Wikipedia entry:

'Relational art or relational aesthetics is a mode or tendency in fine art practice originally observed and highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. Bourriaud defined the approach as "a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space." The artist can be more accurately viewed as the "catalyst" in relational art, rather than being at the centre.’

Studios are not galleries and Studio COCOA’s pop-up studio at Castlegate Festival was no exception.

Studios are places where artists experiment, take risks, and create a mess. To use an industry analogy, it’s where the process of assembly takes place before the art hits the showroom floor. There were not many ‘finished’ artworks in Studio COCOA, except perhaps the Ray Gun museum created by Martin Currie; and even that is a piece that resists the finality of categorisation, because it seems to function equally well as an installation as it does as a performance prop. Most of the art created in Studio COCOA had a rough and ready feel, having the appearance of works in progress: working drawings, sketches, maquettes…

We would, however, expect to find the odd thing of beauty in a studio – perhaps a piece that is close to completion, which is coming out of its experimental or developmental form like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. In this case, again, Studio COCOA was no exception… seeing Joe Scarborough make a window drawing with Russ Young was one example: an intergenerational conversation in drawing. Russ’s process led workshop concept, which offered a ‘window’ into the mind of the participant through mark making, became occupied at that moment by Joe’s signature draughtsmanship – an economical reference to a one-man tradition.

But the real beauty in Studio COCOA, for me at least, was in the reactions – some might even say the chemistry – that occurred in the place. A lot has been said recently about the role of the artist or curator as catalyst (Hans Ulrich Obrist refers to this in his recent book Ways of Curating and the definition of relational aesthetics quoted above from Wikipedia references this too) but, as we may remember from our school chemistry lessons, the catalyst disappears … as if by magic.

This is why I enjoyed the magical spectacle of very young children repurposing the cardboard ‘post-modernist’ structure that Steve Pool had made into dens and playground equipment – this resonated beautifully (although, perhaps, with a hint of irreverence) with the Re-Make Castlegate Project model created by University of Sheffield architects that took a central position on the floor of Castle House. I was also moved by the close concentration manifested in the body positions of the young people participating in Jon Harrison’s ‘Battle of Sheffield’ stop motion animation – and by Jon’s subsequent desire to continue the project beyond the confines of Studio COCOA – a kind of post-pop-up studio practise.

Which leads me nicely into the future of the COCOA project. Our plans now are to take the Castlegate Open Community Of Artists back out of the studio to engage with Castlegate’s varied workers, residents and other constituencies outdoors, ‘en plein air’. Partnerships are being built and approaches and negotiations for further catalytic reactions are currently taking place … so please watch this (inclusive, mobile, non-private) space for further details.

Studio COCOA Photo Album:

Entry #6 Someone asked me about success, so here's my answer ...

"Speaking from a personal point of view, and in all honestly, I think that all of the events and workshops that COCOA (Castlegate Open Collective Of Artists) has undertaken so far have been successful, and meaningful, in one way or another.

The writing workshop with AB Jackson - our first step on the COCOA journey - certainly had a certain creative magic to it. It also helped establish the theme of confluence, or joining together, that has become something of a leitmotif throughout the residency period. You will be able to see the results of this workshop - the collective poem ‘Confluence’ - during our special screening event “Shining a Light on Castlegate' at Exchange Place Open Studios on Sunday 21st November. The poem, which has been made into a short film by Steve Pool, will feature as part of a short programme of artist’s film that will be projected onto Exchange Place Studios. The programme will also include works by Victoria Lucas and Peter Griffiths.

I suppose that it was ambitious from the outset to try to create an artistic ‘community’ - however temporary - but do I think that we have succeeded in establishing some very strong connections between individuals that didn’t exist before - and I am confident that these connections will be of a lasting nature. By way of example, I was speaking (or should I say ’touching base’?) with two of our COCOA artists at a networking event recently and they said that they felt a lot more secure at the event than they would do normally - simply because they knew lots of people who were also at the event through Studio COCOA! We haven’t tried to force this ‘community making’ but we have managed to all stay in touch - and we have also used the age old strategies of sharing meals, resources, and above all experiences and ideas to forge these bonds. I really do think that Studio COCOA has brought people closer together and Art has been at is the heart of this; Art performing its primary, age old social function - creating a space in which conversations can take place and in which happy social interactions can occur and be made material.”