Our first artist in residence this year is Ruth Ansell, an artist with a design and textile background. Previously a volunteer with Project Ability’s Create programme, she took over a corner of our ReConnect workshops for the month of May, gathering lots of attention from the other artists.
One month is quite a short time, how did you prepare for the residency?
I had an idea of things I wanted to achieve during the residency, though I think I was a little overambitious! But it’s not a bad thing; it’s good to have something to work towards. It was also important to me not to be too strict about this time, as I can be quite controlling with what I need to do. I wanted to allow a flow to happen, which I think I achieved. I overcame a few stumbling blocks and I genuinely think I have more of an idea of what I want to do now.
I graduated from Art school in 2004, and since then I have been doing bits and pieces of work, but they have always been based on other people, for example making a dress using a pattern, I have found it hard to create my own independent work. The residency allowed me time to try things, for example I’ve never really painted on a canvas before, so this is my first painting!
Did the residency give you some sort of clarity then?
Well, I did a design subject, and I thought of it very much like a design subject, worrying about things like commerciality. I spent too long thinking about my work from another person’s perspective and not actually being creative and expressing myself. Going from a design background to the expressive visual arts can be quite daunting, as it’s a very different way of thinking. Someone I interviewed for my dissertation last year said that in craft there was no real depth of thought behind the artwork, except for functionality. In the past I felt I worried about this aspect too much: I like things that are functionally well made, and I also like expressive things, but I never allowed myself to be expressive. I feel like I liberated myself to a more fine art way of thinking during the residency, which felt very freeing.
Can you talk us through what you have been working on?
It’s all been about experimentation… I took some photos before coming here to inspire me, so there have been various strands of visual research. However, I really wanted to crack the texture in one of my photographs, which I think I achieved with the newspaper. The only problem is that it’s paper, so from a design/craft point of view it can’t actually be worn. But I wanted to go through this process being as resourceful as possible, re-use is a big area of interest for me: I collected used newspapers, and I’ve painted and woven them by hand, often without a proper loom. I’ve also been in touch with a mill about getting some unprocessed wool as a step to making something low cost but also wearable using my visual research and new techniques as a starting point. I wasn’t really into working with such strong texture before, so that’s also been quite a new thing for me. I feel I have learned a lot about working with what is to hand and from this I have developed new techniques, all during the residency.
Have you had lots of interest from Project Ability artists?
Yes, and that’s been really nice! I wasn’t feeling particularly confident in myself and what I was doing, but I have had lots of people commenting on the work, and saying they really liked it. They were really enthusiastic, especially about the textures and the chromatography drawings.
Where will you go from here?
I am going to finish the exhibition piece, which might take a little bit longer than I thought! I started making a dress from the textured and woven paper, but it’s not where I want it to be yet. I want to get a loom and start doing painted warps too. I’ve only just started weaving again and it’s something I feel I can get a lot more from as an artist. The residency has taught me the value of dedicated space, so I know I want to set up a space like this as soon as possible. My space at home is not suitable and I feel that it has been hindering me doing my own work.
I started a blog about the residency and the work I’ve been doing here (www.ruthansell.blogspot.co.uk). Maybe I will try making my own website, and try to exhibit my work too.
How did working in Project Ability affect your practice?
I never think that I know enough: I keep going to classes or doing work experience, I guess I haven’t felt confident I could work independently before. Having this time, a lot of things came together and I realised I’ve not been allowing myself to do what I want. This is the first time I’ve called myself a textile artist and designer, so that’s pretty cool! Basically the time has helped me to start practicing again; previously I was just doing things when people needed me to. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of being good enough at a craft to offer a service to others, it’s very valuable to me, but I also want to concentrate on my own work too. I think if I set up some sort of dedicated workspace, I will be able to do that.
It’s been a great experience, very positive! I have been telling everyone how great the organisation is. I think you might have a lot of people applying for the residency next year!!
All images are works in progress.