Creatives in Residence #04: Alex Zawadzki - Un-cultured Creatives

13 May 2020 by Ed

Our 'Creatives in Residence' kitchen table stories from Lancashire's creative community in lock-down continues with creative producer and curator, Alex Zawadzki, who (along with artist, Jamie Holman), conceives ground-breaking projects as Un-cultured Creatives and Prism Contemporary.

Creatives in Residence #04: Alex Zawadzki  - Un-cultured Creatives

"Working from home has been a time to reflect on my relationship with my work."

"On a ‘normal’ day the work we do is so varied and so are the locations….We don't have a shared studio at this point, but can be found working in the gallery, the college, Blackburn's cafes or from home. We usually only work in the same space one or two days a week; so in some ways, working from home isn't a huge change.

However….the success of our working relationship lies in the similarities we share in our working style. We both thrive on varied work loads, collaborative working and conversation. And this is the change we’re really feeling. Car sharing and coffee shops provide us with some of the best opportunities for creative working conversations and we are definitely missing that aspect of our usual work weeks. Most of our collaborative work process is sharing of ideas and deconstructing things we’ve read, researched or seen; and less about agreeing details; there is a lot of trust in our collaboration and we rarely disagree on the way to move forward or how to manage a problem. 

Our two long lead commissions were both due to be presented around this time. Flashback is a creative digital archive of the human stories behind Acid house in Blackburn - it's a social history piece, in which we collected interviews from organisers, Dj’s, policemen, residents and ravers, and we have been able to launch as planned. It feels timely as now, there is a need for digital content and I think Flashback is refreshing as it’s totally new, and is a chance for some escapism from anything related to the current situation.

We were also due to deliver an outdoor intervention piece called Above Below Beyond, a response to working with young people from across East Durham, and finding a way to represent their lives and their heritage through performance. We are currently transforming this into a new project that can be delivered online. 

As these two come to a close, this should have been a time we would be scoping out new work for the next 6 months, so that causes some concern. We often source work opportunities from ACE jobs and their daily opportunities email dropped from 40+ commissions, jobs and residencies;  to 1 or 2 a day almost immediately after lockdown. That was a real eye-opener. The longer lead times on commissions and programming means the impact on an already precarious industry and could be long lasting for arts and culture. It’s a big concern. 

(image: Alex Zawadzki & Jamie Holman)

We’re putting measures in place that may help generate a future,  as we’re so unsure about where the next project might come from. Applying for the various emergency grants is a time consuming task that may have a huge impact on how we continue to operate -  if successful. We’ve shifted our attention to applications for new opportunities for fundings and grants, instead of commissions or project work. A lot of these opportunities are helpful, but ask artists to make work related to covid or their new situation - my personal feeling, is that this will alienate a huge number of artists who have established work narratives that don’t connect with these subjects, and will limit the pool of artists who can access financial support. I feel that this collaborative model of working that we are developing is going to sustain us moving forward as our partnership allows us to be responsive and agile in terms of what we can deliver. The logistics of delivering art works, research or digital outputs etc are already challenging.  An artist and a producer working together can achieve more than either can working in isolation. We have seen commissions extend because of this, and we’re focusing on some positives coming out of this strange time:

  • We've creating an unexpected digital portfolio of creative works
  • We've made a commitment to pick up some of those projects left on the ‘ideas shelf.’ We want to emerge out the other side of this with new artworks -  this is the stuff that makes us tick.
  • Both of us are working with other people through video calls and picture messaging, and building new creative relationships; an artwork in collaboration with sign writer Umberto Eco, a tapestry artwork with John Spencer Textiles, a publication with Craig Oldham, new websites for us both with Source Creative, and a new idea for a video work and some smaller artworks are all underway or in the planning.
  • We’ve had a reminder that we can work from wherever we want with ease and this may affect decisions about our future practice and the freedom we have to travel and work.

(Image: Prism Contemporary)

Working from home has been a time to reflect on my relationship with my work. When we went into lockdown I thought we all had a great gift - an opportunity to step back from the super-speed we all work, take some guilt free time to reset and reconsider our pace of life.

Instead social media pounced with memes and videos about making this time count, learning languages, working out challenges and inspiration chain email requests; I’ve been vocal that we should take that pressure off and do what works for you. Some days I'm sitting at my desk at 9 am with make-up on trying to create a sense of normality/formality. Last Friday I had ice cream for breakfast and wrote emails in a swimsuit because… “I didn't know what else to wear around the house that day.”

Despite my own advice, I have in reality,  worked more and more. I find it harder to switch off the workflow now I don't have ‘outside life’ distractions.

As much as technology is dictating that I can keep work flowing, it is no substitute for the unexpected ideas that happen when we stop working, and remember to let ourselves be distracted."

Alex Zawadzki (May 2020)

Uncultured Creatives is a creative studio made up of artist Jamie Holman and Alex Zawadzki a Creative Producer and Curator, delivering cultural projects and art commissions. They are also Directors of Prism Contemporary Gallery with Sophie Skellern and Steve Baldwin, whilst Jamie is head of Art at Blackburn School of Art, Associate artist for British Textile Biennial and Non-Exec Director of The National festival of Making.

FLASHBACK: Acid House Stories

Alex and Jamie's latest project, Flashback, was created by Un-cultured Creatives in response to the British Textile Biennial 2019 programme. An audio archive of the human stories behind Blackburn’s Acid House parties. A record of this revolutionary scene, generated straight from the mouths of the people who lived and breathed the era.

Creatives in Residence

Look out for more features from those working across the spectrum of creative occupations over the forthcoming weeks including designers, artists, film makers and more to share tales and tips for how they are working and coping while we adapt to the conditions created by the Covid-19 crisis and consider readiness for times ahead.

Click on the names below to read the other Creative in Residence posts in this series:

If you want to share how you and those in your organisations or networks are navigating these unusual and unprecedented times please get in-touch:

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