Sunday, 13 March 2011

Where Are We Now? interview with Anna Francis

Anna Francis is an artist whose practice examines private histories, public space and civic languages; using forms of intervention, mapping, performance, consultation and photography to investigate the impact of art and culture on the regeneration of cities.

Francis has exhibited widely across the UK and beyond and has project managed and designed various art platforms which provide opportunities for other artists to investigate the city as a site for exploration and development. These include Interrogation: Walsall in 2009 (delivered from the New Art Gallery Walsall) and Interrogation: West Bromwich in 2010. In 2010 a book to document and set out the process of Interrogation was published. (‘Interrogation Walsall: a handbook’ by Anna Francis).

Ongoing participatory project ‘There is Beauty in the City’ is an online project, where participants apply for a magnet, which they can place anywhere in their respective cities that they find beauty – photograph the location and send it in to the project blog. This is resulting in a catalogue of images from around the world, forming a consensus on the beauty to be found in urban space. In 2010 the project lead to exhibitions in the Leiden - Netherlands, Gijon - Spain and inclusion in a performance event in Bristol – UK.

Other projects see Francis becoming invented characters in order to test the boundaries of the city and its situations. The artist has variously become a dating agency director, a tour guide and a market researcher to investigate the city.

What's new?
I am just working on a piece of work which has been selected for a show in Margate: the show is due to coincide with the opening of Turner Contemporary, an art space whose progress I have been following with interest. In these very hard times it is fascinating to see an art space of this size opening. I am keen to see the impact that this will have on the Town (having spent numerous summers as a teenager working in the Dreamland Fun Park in Margate.) The work I am making for the show will explore the limitations and possibilities created by the use of emoticons. As someone who uses digital medias and in particular, social networks a lot within my practice I am often frustrated, but also intrigued by the miscommunications and misunderstandings generated by the use of email and instant messaging. The emoticon attempts to provide a nuance of emotion but is generally inadequate. I am working on a series of self-portraits where I attempt to recreate emoticons with my face. Also, I am in the process of organising a group show of work by artists from Stoke-on-Trent, again in Margate. The show is called ‘Kiss Me Quick’ and in many ways looks back to the old Potter’s Holidays – where large groups from Stoke would all go to the seaside at the same time. The show will be in July 2011.

Where are we now?
I think we are still a long way from reaching anything like equality. I think it is still a very uneven playing field out there, and I feel this in both my position as a lecturer in fine art and as an artist. I have heard my work described by male colleagues as ‘Funny Little Projects’ which I feel is derogatory. I do not think that my work is about women in any way, and neither does it have a Feminist bent - but it does involve conversation, participation and I often take on various ‘Women’s Roles’ within it, though this has been an unconscious thing – almost a coincidence, and is down to the fact that I am Female. I think that a man working performatively in a similar way would not have their work described like that. I am also aware that my trajectory through my career as a lecturer is a lot slower than some of my Male Colleagues.

What's to be done?
I think there is a lot to be done to make things more equal – and I think a good start would be for everyone to be more vocal about their experiences (this project is a good start!)

Who's next?
Ellie Harrison – amazingly prolific and politically active.
Sophie Hope – fighting the good fight.

What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to working on a project with Helen Moore and others about the 4 Garden Festivals and their legacies (this is in its early stages).
Also really looking forward to Kiss Me Quick this summer on Margate Harbour Arm.