By Gonçalo Birra  –  MA Fine Art 2016 Alumni,
Chelsea College of Arts

image: Gonçalo Birra. AER 2017 Residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER) was launched in 2015 by member of the UAL Research Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) and UAL Chair of Art and the Environment Professor Lucy Orta and coordinated by CSF Associate Curator Camilla Palestra.

Gonçalo Birra  –  MA Fine Art 2016 Alumni, Chelsea College of Arts  was selected for this years’ AER 2017 Residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. here is his report back.


AER at Yorkshire Sculpture Park Report

Residency Period: 6th November – 26th November 2017

An Attempt To Interrupt Systematic Assembling Instincts (x3) Departing from the ways in which things (bodies, objects and others) seem to be shaped by their encounters with their environments, as well as how things present themselves to us, the proposal for this residency aimed to interfere with the institution — Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) — and the way it is framed to others.

Unfolding from my own artistic practice and research interests, the proposal for this residency followed a three week staged approach, where in each week I aimed to interfere with different elements that seem to sustain our ideas of the park.

image: Gonçalo Birra. AER 2017 Residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Believing that my encounter with YSP had taken place before having visited the park itself, I have drawn on the idea of the institution as an extended body — one that reaches out taking various different shapes and forms. Particularly through social media, YSP seems to exist and to occupy different landscapes as my first encounter with the park happened through navigating their website and social media  platforms (Instagram and Facebook). From this point, my very experience of the place itself had been framed in a particular way — how the landscape is photographed and described, how the artwork is communicated virtually, and how the exhibitions, events and a certain institutional ethos, define what experience of the place I was to have.

It is exactly in the definition or delimitation of the experience of the place that I aimed to interrupt, proposing to introduce a glitch in the reading of its geography. This glitch was thought as a an attempt to introduce a stoppage with embodied meaning-making mechanisms (or instincts), so to liberate the place from a certain hermetic frame. While proposing to interrupt established norms for the navigation of the park’s land, I aimed to anecdotally expose the encounters I was to have with the workers that constitute yet another part of YSP’s body — workers which are in fact shaping the very place one encounters both in Yorkshire and on the Internet.

In my first encounter with the park in Yorkshire, I delved into the organizational structures that seem to be hidden from view. I met with different staff members from various departments (Programmes and Events, Marketing and PR, Estates, Visitor Experience, Curation, Learning, Families, Wellbeing and with all the technicians). In these encounters, I was exposed to various different stories and histories of the same place — all of them unveiling experiences of joy and belonging, as well as bruising and frustrating ones.

At this stage during the first week, I had already been impressed and affected by the views, opinions and lived experiences of the workers I had met. These impressions enabled me to more truthfully encounter YSP, and to draft the ways in which I could disrupt seemingly linear and fixed ways of experiencing it.

The Map – 2017, Gonçalo Birra. AER 2017 Residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

In order to initiate this process of undoing, I investigated the park’s printed map. This is undoubtedly the tool that most people use in order to navigate the place, that had by now taken a completely different shape for me. This map is delimitated by the exterior border of the park, separating it from all the other land, and reads different suggestions, or instructions, on how to better navigate it, how and where to encounter sculptures and other buildings, what one can do and what one mustn’t do. While proposing what seems to be an efficient navigation of the park — one that measures distances and the time bodies take to walk them — this tool that seems rather common at first, is in fact the formalization of our embodied expectations. We expect to consume the park, in a linear, efficient and productive manner, while ticking all the boxes that correspond to the experiences had — the famous sculpture, the picturesque walk, the picnic, the art exhibition, etc.

image: Gonçalo Birra. AER 2017 Residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

This critical reading of the park’s free print, enabled me to start the proposed process of interruption, by producing an almost blank map of the same geographical area. In my free print (available at YSP’s reception desk and website), the buildings, sculptures, and areas of ‘interest’, have been erased, revealing only the area where land is covered by water (the river and the artificial lakes). In the map, I proposed three different pathways which start somewhere and lead to nowhere in particular, and introduced three gapped zones delimitated by a line which read ‘limits of knowledge’. These three areas (loosely and almost randomly placed), are areas that seem to be unclaimed by the institution — with no sculptures or pathways trodden. The map became one of the tree ways in which there was An Attempt To Interrupt Systematic Assembling Instincts.

image: Gonçalo Birra. AER 2017 Residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Departing from the meetings had with the park’s workers during the first week, I developed a series of sculptures that anecdotally referenced some of these encounters. Carved in their shapes, cut into or embroidered onto, the pieces where installed in the park’s boathouse — a seemingly unassuming building named after its storing purpose. The structure was transformed into a laboratory where the various parts of YSP’s bodies where dissected and exposed, so to perform a different reading of the same landscape — becoming yet another attempt to intervene in the ways our understanding of YSP seems to be hermetically framed.

Reading into the re-mapped geography of the park, and focusing on the three areas outlined, I have proposed for three sculptures to be planted in the grounds, as if they could in themselves reclaim land and introduce a reminder on how the seemingly natural landscape is in itself artificial.

Drawing on flags and flag poles, I wrote an absurd proposition where common straight and upward oriented flag poles become crooked and fluid, as if their intimidating presence would collapse,
making it impossible for these objects to convey the authority which seems to be intrinsic to them.

By removing what is the purpose of the object — the flag — these flag(less) poles introduce a glitch in the landscape by proposing a renewed, and rather absurd, idea of identity and belonging.

The in-existent presence of a flag, invites bodies to claim their own experience of the place and the seemingly rooted conceptions of natural and nature.

As an extension to this project, contemporary dancer Robert Bridger was invited to attempt to interrupt, an invitation which resulted in two performances over two of the park’s bridges. Bridger attempted to propose a breakage with the containment of dance performances, and how dance platforms seem to circumscribe the experience that both audience and dancer have.  The work and research developed during this residency will be made available as an archive in the shape of a booklet, to be downloadable from the park’s website. This gesture aims to invite others to re-draw how they encounter seemingly hermetic spaces and places. The Flag(less) Poles and The Map will remain on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.


Related Links:


The Art for the Environment International Residency Programme (AER):

In 2015, internationally acclaimed artist, Professor Lucy Orta UAL Chair of Art for the Environment – Centre for Sustainable Fashion, launched the Art for the Environment Residency Programme (AER), in partnership with residency programmes across Europe. Applicants can choose from a 2 to 4 week period at one of the hosting institutions, to explore concerns that define the twenty-first century – biodiversity, environmental sustainability, social economy, human rights – and through their artistic practice, envision a world of tomorrow.

Through personal research, studio production time, critiques and mentoring sessions with Lucy Orta and a selection of Europe’s most exciting cultural institutions, the residency programme provides a platform for creative individuals, working across various disciplines, to imagine and create work that can make an impact on how we interact with the environment and each other.

A distinguished selection panel assess the applicants for this unique opportunity to partake in the UAL Art for the Environment Residency Programme.

NOTE: Applications accepted from UAL graduates, postgraduates and recent alumni (within 12 months from graduation date).

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