Digital artist Elliott Flanagan is currently researching our archive as part of the Spot On Digital Commission 2020. He uses memory, text and language in his work and in his blog he shares an early piece he has written, giving a few examples of the words and titles that have stood out for him so far…
Bob Hall’s good liquor (and hard times)
Jo King does it HIS WAY
Barnaby King is a flawed genius
Igbekun (“Or is it eebahgum?”)
Authentic African costumes and props come to Hornby.
George Orwell at The Dog Inn
John Osborne (“No, not that one”)
Leafing through the Radio Times.
Ladies that bus.
On Pendle Hill
Tickets from Mill Hill post office
Bring your own drinks and nibbles.
Research is an important part of my art practice so in preparation for this year’s digital commission, I visited Culturapedia to explore the Spot On archive and its 25 years worth of brochures, posters, flyers and photographs. I revelled in exploring the box files and albums, travelling back and forth in time, touring distinct rural locations in Lancashire, and taking in live arts spanning the different trends and tastes of the last quarter century.
My work is driven by a sense of community and as a born and bred Lancastrian, a commitment to the area and an interest in its people. Looking back through the archive to discover communities coming together via an engagement with the arts not often afforded to this part of the country was special to me. This is precious particularly in the current climate of lockdown and the global Coronavirus pandemic. We are experiencing a loss and grief for community, where the freedom to gather, commune and share an experience together has become magnified. I found the archive evocative and full of material. There was so much to think about.
Today’s society is increasingly defined by the digital and electronic. We are living in an immediate, fast-paced era where the cyber age and its swirling mass of information impacts our daily lives on a frequent basis. The importance of the seasons to Spot On is an interesting contrast to the times and a defining feature, as well as a natural alliance to the rural areas in which their work is based. As farmers plant their crops in spring and harvest in autumn, so too does Spot On and their network of artists, organisers and volunteers, producing programmes of art events to reflect the changing of the seasons.
My own history of pop culture and keeping alive these reference points I believe have resonance today is a common idea in my work. Even though the John Osborne I found in the Spot On archive is a different person, I have referred to the archetypal ‘angry young’ playwright of the 1950’s known for the ‘kitchen sink realism’ of his plays Look Back in Anger (1956) and The Entertainer (1957). This period of writers and their work often had a strong northern identity, shining a light on the working classes and giving their lives a voice for the first time.
My work is rooted in moving image and memory is a reoccurring theme I discuss in my films. I look to use imagery that is evocative to me that prompts feelings of recollection and meditation in others who view the work, creating a dialogue between artist and viewer. This is also clear in my use of text. For example, the use of Mill Hill and its post office reminds me of playing football in the Blackburn suburb. From my experience, I recognise its landscape, community, traits and resemblance to other such places in the north. Equally visiting the local post office feels antiquated, a remembrance of an old life since we have fewer community hubs now. I use words and combinations I feel have the power to be vivid in the imagination, rich with subject matter and meaning, with social and political consequences that can unfold in a person’s mind.
Keep up to date with Elliott Flanagan and the project on his website and Instagram feed: