— Art practice
With tongue in cheek I define myself as a contemporary folk artist. ‘Folk’ is a slippery and divisive term, with some uncomfortable associations, however for me it doesn’t represent a specific vernacular or style, nor set of rustic artefacts once gathered by Victorian collectors and promptly preserved in aspic. Instead, it’s what can happen when people come together, regardless of anything, to share in cultural practices they create for themselves. My practice aims to draw out this kind of folk via contemporary re-workings of ‘traditional’ performances and skills, and in the creation of hybrid forms, showcasing the ‘folk’ arts of the 21st century (such as 'hand-blinging'!).
Identifying primarily as a socially-engaged — or dialogical — artist my practice involves making, performance and research. I work closely with communities, sometimes collaborating over long periods (for example, working with carnival troupe dancers since 2013) and at other times working in short bursts to explore an idea (such as my 4-week residency, ‘Make Your Own Entertainment’ in Stoke-on-Trent in 2015, and ‘Rose Queen Re-imagined’ project in South Manchester, 2013).
Building on my background as a folk musician—touring with the BBC-Folk-Award-nominated act, Pilgrims’ Way—my work challenges narrow portrayals of the traditional arts—typically associated with historical depth, rurality and masculinity— through emphasis on the dynamic cultural contributions of working class communities, particularly women.
I am a post-doctoral researcher with interests in tradition, participation and DIY. My background is in ethnomusicology—a field sensitized to the study of people, performance and place—and my primary specialisms are the English folk arts; in particular, the dance performances associated with the ‘town carnival movement’ in the Northwest of England.
I am currently employed as Senior Research Associate at the University of East Anglia, working on the AHRC Connected Communities project, 'Participatory Arts and DIY Cultures' with Prof. George McKay. Prior to taking up this post, I was Research Associate on the AHRC-funded Digital Folk project at the University of Sheffield, examining the ways in which folk arts participants utilise digital resources, tools and networks in order to learn, collaborate, reinterpret traditional material and create new work (www.digitalfolk.org).
My PhD was concerned with ‘artistic research’ approaches, at the intersection of ethnography and art.That I possess a hybrid identity as both a researcher and an artist is not to say that I perceive a significant disconnect between these two kinds of practice. At their most elemental levels, both art and academia represent highly rigorous forms of knowledge production and dissemination, fundamentally concerned with understanding—and potentially transforming—human social life. I strive to stay both, and to make work which does not merely illustrate theory, but generates it too.