At the end of 2018 I did a round up of the year and shared what I had written. It was both useful and confidence-building to reflect on the achievements and patterns that emerged throughout the year whilst also looking ahead to see what I had to look forward to. I’ve decided to do this again for 2019. As I write this it is actually April 2020 (it’s been a difficult few months, you’ll see why) but I’ll backdate the post to when I’d have ideally posted it! Ahh the beauty of technology, eh?
Let’s go back to December 2018 for a quick recap… I was a recent graduate from the Hull School of Art and Design, I had just been given use of a small shared studio space in Hull, The Critical Fish was just awarded is inaugural funding and I had just received word that I had been successful in my applications to UNION and the Emergence Bursary. I was absolutely BUZZING after a ‘sickeningly’ good year.
- Just after new year saw the first of the five UNION weekends, in which we were based at ChapelFM in Leeds. I was of course totally nervous before going (but so was everyone else) but it was a fantastic weekend in Seacroft.
- Jill and I were busy working away researching and developing our ideas behind The Critical Fish, meeting with potential sponsors, planning a plan of attack and announcing our very first Call for Articles! It was a very exciting time!
- I had begun a routine to go into my new Park Ave studio space on my days off work, which was absolutely lovely.
- After Jill connected with Liverpool’s The Double Negative as part of our Critical Fish research, they kindly invited us to guest-write an article on the Liverpool Biennials touring exhibition Place to Place, which grouped together works by Annie Pootoogook, Suki Seokyeong Kang and Inci Eviner at Humber Street Gallery. We co-wrote the piece as if it were a conversation, and it was a really enjoyable experience to do some experimental artwriting.
- We were working flat out on Fish stuff this month – a lot of time and energy was invested into Fish this month and many big learning curves were made!
- I was also feverishly making work for an upcoming exhibition at Hull Central Library, the first of the Littoral Vistas exhibitions there. I exhibited new work based on the East Yorkshire Coast alongside new work by fellow ‘Ten Degrees’ graduates Rebecca Addinell and Sinitta Beadle. I remember being so up against it and working long into many nights to complete pretty ambitious piece of work. Yeah, February was a pretty tough month to say the least!
- Littoral Vistas showed! It looked ace in there when our work was up and I got plenty of both positive and critical feedback about it. It was the first show I had been involved in since my Degree Show the previous June, so it was really nice to install and curate and have fun with that side of things again.
- There was plenty more Fish work being done this month. If I remember correctly there was a lot of (learning on the job) editing and pulling things together!
- I had been invited to display some of my graduate work at the Ones To Watch exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills in Leeds. I was so excited about it – regrettably, I wasn’t able to make the preview or the show itself but friends who went said it was an interesting collection of work.
- Probably the biggest thing that happened in March was appearing at the Tate Exchange within the Tate Modern to give an artist talk (yes, you read that right). Shape Arts, Disability Arts Online and a-n (who organised/funded the Emergence Bursary) arranged an event at the Tate to give the four bursary winners – myself, Fae Kilburn, Letty McHugh and Leo Wight – the opportunity to discuss our practices as disabled artists. It was mega. A right mega event.
- Second of the UNION weekends! This time it was in good ole’ Hull, based at Artlink. I LOVED having the crowd in checking out Hull for themselves (I promise you, it’s nothing like people expect it to be)
- Fish, Fish, Fish. Scrambling to get everything print-proofed, it proofread, checking, double checking, editing some more before FINALLY getting it sent off to the printers. It was HARD WORK but it was amazing when it got sent off – everyone involved worked SO damn hard on it.
- I heard about what Extinction Rebellion was doing down in London and felt inspired – I read into it all and following a much needed break away visiting my mum in the Lake District, I joined the local XR group in Hull! And I’m so glad I did.
- I don’t know if it was burnout, or because I was due an inevitable spell of poor mental health, but my depression sank in BIG TIME. I felt it swirling around near the start of the month, but by my birthday towards the end I was really struggling to cope. This happens once or twice a year without fail, this is part of me and I’ve learnt to cope with it so that with support and adjustments I can carry on with life, but it doesn’t stop the intense experiences that go along with it.
- I did a memorable workshop with Hull Carnival Arts and the East Midlands Caribbean Carnival Arts Network at Scrapstore, learning how to make backpack carnival costumes. It reminded me of why I loved costume so much and why I chose to pursue it in my younger days. It really inspired me and gave me a lot of ideas (which, admittedly, I’ve done very little with yet!)
- Manz went on the radio. For Mental Health Awareness Week I appeared on Kofi Smiles’ BBC Radio Humberside programme ‘No Filter‘. It was a great experience – I spoke openly and candidly about my experiences and my role within the NHS and explored a lot of interesting avenues of discussion with presenter/producer Martha and fellow guest Charli Parks. Gave me plenty of confidence in appearing on radio.
- We published Anchovy! We launched the first issue of The Critical Fish, Anchovy, at Humber Street Gallery. And woooow what an awesome night it was – the venue was PACKED and it was such a great time. It was a deserved night of celebration for the whole team after such an intense period working on it.
- I was successful with my microgrant application to YVAN! I wanted to use it to top-up my Emergence Bursary (you’ll see how below)
- I was ALSO successful with my application to Humber Street Gallery’s Fruit Factory Network programme!
- I saw the Spice Girls (for the third time since 1997) at the Etihad Stadium at the end of the month. Just sayin’.
- Because of this wave of good fortune and good times, I felt my depression lifting…
- …but it came back even harder. Felt really bad and really stressed throughout this whole month. I retreated from the world for the most part this month. I had to.
- We went on the first Fruit Factory Network trip to Leeds to explore some local galleries and organisations to see what we could learn from them. We visited East Street Arts, The Tetley and SERF. It was a good experience!
- Right at the end of the month, I took part in organising and participating XR Hull’s first big demo, which was occupying Victoria Square and telling the truth. It was the first time I had taken part in something like that and I really, really enjoyed it. I had never campaigned to the public before, let alone participate in a die-in. It was fab and I felt inspired and like I belonged to something bigger than myself with people who shared my view of the world.
- I went to Manchester for the UNION 3 weekend! Oh my god, thinking about that weekend now just lights me up. It was tiring, but fabulous. Hulme Community Garden, that’s all that needs to be said.
- Straight after Manchester (literally I travelled from there on the Sunday night), I went to London to begin the Drawing Marathon at the Royal Drawing School (on the Monday!). This is what I had chosen to spend my Emergence Bursary money doing. I was there for two weeks drawing, for the most part, from life (read about week one and week two). I feel so fortunate to have been afforded that experience. Drawing. Solid. Six hours a day. For ten solid days. Heaven. And because I was staying with my dad in London, I got to see the part of my family I don’t see enough (especially my beloved amazing little sister) so that was pretty hype too!
- My depression was beginning to lift around this time, so that was also really positive.
- This month saw the second of the Fruit Factory Trips – we went to Sheffield, visiting the S1 Artspace, Bloc Projects and the Site Gallery.
- I had NVDA training, which I really valued and appreciated doing. I learnt loads and gave me much more confidence as an activist.
- Right at the end of the month, I went to Newcastle for UNION 4. I’d never been to Newcastle but immediately fell in love with it and the spirit of the place.
- September was quite a busy month in regards to XR. I took part in the Redeclaration event in town and marched around with banners and that, but then also with the General Climate Strike a few weeks later, which was EPIC. I had so much fun with my homemade drum and it felt great to parade around and show that solidarity with so many others in the city.
- Got myself back on the radio twice within the month. Firstly, a colleague and I went on a local radio broadcast (Hull Kingston Radio) with presenter Wolfy O’Hare to talk about the Humber Recovery College to promote it and the upcoming Enrolment Day, and then a few weeks later I was back on No Filter but this time talking about Creativity and Mental Health, where I guested alongside my artist pal Sergej Komkov and new friend Milly Rose. I enjoyed both appearances a lot – I like being in the studio and find it quite a comfortable place to be and to talk.
- I treat myself to a Printmaking course with Feral Art School, which started this month. I have only had the opportunity to do some proper printmaking a handful of times so was so excited to explore the medium with such experienced artists and tutors. Yeah, was awesome.
- I went to London to participate in the London Rebellion. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE. I only managed to camp in Vauxhall for the one night – I got really ill (I suppose marching for hours in the cold and rain will do that to a person) so I had to retreat to my dads until the ride home, but for the two days I was active and involved I loved it all. As I had no intention on getting arrested (I don’t fully agree with that tactic if I’m honest) and because I was a bit green to this kind of thing I intended to go to watch, observe and support. And I learnt a lot by doing so. It was inspiring.
- After MONTHS of searching, I finally got given the keys to a little unit down Humber Street Gallery, so I could exhibit some of the drawings produced from the Royal Drawing School experience! I called it ‘Drawing Breath’. Worked hard on the install and scrambling around to produce the literature for it and advertise it and whatnot. Oh, and organise volunteers! Launch night was on Halloween! It was lovely. Despite the rain, people came to see it.
- Went on the third Fruit Factory Network trip to Liverpool, visiting The Royal Standard, TATE Liverpool, Output and The Bluecoat.
- My awesome amazing super brilliant teenage sister came to stay with me for the first time ever! She’s never been allowed before, but we convinced the ‘rents to let her jump on a train and stay with me for half term. Oh my god, I loved having her around. Ok, not specifically art/activism related this point (well, she helped install my exhibition and came to Liverpool, does that count?), but still, it was a big thing that happened in October.
- I finally made the decision to quit driving in favour of walking and cycling. Not only to benefit my physical and mental health (the stress cars caused me, my word) but also in the name of environmentalism. This was a big change that honestly, was a long time coming.
- I was spending time in the exhibition space everyday I was off (and sending in my partner/volunteers when I wasn’t) and got busy planning a programme of events, intending to fully utilise the space for both myself and the local art community. I really enjoyed having a space that I could share with others. Such a luxury as an artist, that.
- After a few months of emails and testing waters, I was finally in more structured talks with East Yorkshire Council and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust about a proposal of mine to implement drawing-based ecological interventions along the East Yorkshire coast. Things were looking really promising and I was busy developing and researching the ideas behind the proposal. I was so excited to work on this – this was gonna be my ‘big thing’, the ambitious thing that stepped me over the next threshold as an artist.
- A week into my exhibition, I was involved in a serious Road Traffic Collision. I was cycling (on the electric bike I had bought a few days before) to my exhibition space to open up in the morning (my mum and stepdad came to visit and see my show) when I was hit from behind by a car and thrown off onto the road. I was hospitalised for five days and turns out, suffered an L1 vertebrae fracture. I couldn’t walk or do anything (personal care, turning, retrieving items, you name it) independently. Took a week and intense pain to stand and shuffle using a back brace and zimmer frame, but that was the limit of my mobility. For a long time I barely left the house, needing to limit myself to one or two outings a week so I didn’t push it more than what I was already doing. It’s still difficult for me to talk about this so I’m gonna skip ahead a bit, if that’s alright. Cut a long story short, I pretty much had to cancel the rest of my exhibition and the programme of events as I was faced with my own mortality. I could have so easily died. That’s really scary, and reflecting back on it now whilst writing is making me uncomfortable…
- To add insult to injury (literally) I got booted out of my shared studio space out of nowhere with next to no notice, in order to make way for someone else coming in instead. No car access + broken back + no warning + needing to shift ALL your art supplies and a load of artwork = hugely stressful experience. Got it done with the help of some builders and some cabs but it really wasn’t what I needed at that time. And a load of stuff got damaged or totally destroyed as well.
- Fish launched it’s second issue, Brill, to coincide with the University of Hull’s City of Culture Conference. I didn’t have all too much to do with that one though, as I had a lot going on whilst that was being developed and didn’t want to burn myself out again straight after coming out of my last depressive period. But it was a fantastic issue and the team did an amazing job with it. Super proud.
- With an incredible amount of support, reasonable adjustments, patience and strong painkillers, I was able to be a guest selector for the Beverley Open at Beverley Art Gallery at the end of the month. Agony aside, it was a really good experience. I really enjoyed looking at the different entries and seeing the types of work the local community has made. I’d definitely do something like that again (I’m taking offers, if anyone wants to ask).
- Needless to say, nothing really happened in December as all my energy was put into managing the physical pain and psychological trauma I was experiencing. It was a really tough period. Bit of a shit end to an otherwise brilliant year to be honest!
Throughout the year there’s been a load of ongoing, professional developmental stuff happening too…
- Through UNION, I was getting coaching from Vickie, and she’s ace. I found those sessions really helpful as they helped clarify things and focus down my energies.
- Before ENRG went caput back in March, I got my website built from the ground up.. for free!! Man, I miss ENRG, so many good opportunities sprang from that.
- Having access to a few professional development workshops through the Fruit Factory Network, which have been helpful and provided food for thought.
So what about 2020?
There’s a few things I want to achieve this coming year, and a few things I’m already looking forward to:
- The priority is obviously to recover from the RTC. About six months with physio, counselling and my patented dogged determination and I hope to be back at work and started to get back in the saddle with my arts practice. I need to stop getting seriously injured on a yearly basis (last year I blew both my ankles out at the gym and was in a wheelchair for weeks), that’s something I need to do.
- I have UNION 5 in January (I don’t care how much pain I’m in, I’m going) – which I’m both looking forward to (because I love these weekends with these amazing people and it just give me life) but also devastated about (because it’s the last one).
- I’m looking forward to showing some of my prints at the Feral Reveal in February – I missed a few weeks following the RTC and when I went back, I couldn’t do a lot anyway… regardless, I’ve got a few prints that could be displayed. I’m still pleased with what I’ve managed to achieve, considering.
- I’m planning to dissolve Lauren Saunders Art Ltd – in hindsight, setting up a limited company was some bad advice from ENRG that I followed. Made some sense on paper but in reality, nuh-uh, no way. It’s been an unnecessary beast that I’ve struggled to temper – want the accounts all done and settled and then I’ll become your boggo self-employed practitioner.
- Want to get my Coastal Drawing proposal finalised and sorted and start writing bids and all that fun stuff! With any luck, we’ll be beginning the project in the Summer!!
- We have the Fruit Factory Network Exhibition and Symposium at Humber Street Gallery which I’m SO excited about! I’ve proposed this massive participatory piece that I can’t wait to unleash unto the world. I’d tell you more but I gotta have some mystery about me.
- I’m going to India in May! Booked it last April and I’m really hoping I’m going to be physically able enough to go by then. I should be. I’m 30 in April so me and my mum are going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India, which is somewhere we’ve both always wanted to go. Rarely ever go abroad or fly anymore, so this is quite the biggie. I’m frightened of the plane journey (which reminds me, I need to offset that) but I can’t wait for the bit once we’re actually there.
- I’d like to move house. Where we live now isn’t exactly safe anymore so the sooner we can move, the better. Difficult to go house hunting at the moment though when I can barely walk and fear the outdoors LOL.
Despite what I’ve listed above, I think I need to slow down in 2020. Getting twatted by a huge mass of metal and plastic makes you think a few things. I need to reduce the pace and spend more time in nature, and in the company of friends and family. Simple as that really.
And that’s that then! What a year!