‘Oh, he’s a regular marvel…’As a young community artist, working on a Nottinghamshire housing estate, I used to hear women say that of their husbands, sons, boyfriends, as they watched them being busy. It was affectionate, but unimpressed. Community art has always seemed like that – vital, certainly, but better for not having too great a sense of its own self-importance. It is everyday magic: a regular marvel
Regular Marvels I – 2010 – 2015
Regular Marvels began in 2010, as a response to two paradoxical questions I had about my recent work. The first was: ‘If art is important, why am I not using to understand arts experience?’ By turning increasingly to sociological methods, partly in response to external voices, I felt I was not being true to the central belief that has shaped my work for decades. So I began to think about ways of writing and working with artists that defended the legitimacy of art as a way of knowing.
The second question was this: ‘If people are important, why am I not writing about their experience in ways that they might read?‘ I’d always written with artists in mind, wanting to give them tools for thinking about their own work, but in seeking a certain kind of legitimacy as a researcher, I’d lost sight of that. I needed to make short, readable books that said useful things in ways that related directly to people’s experience. Having now completed six of those, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, I think I have at least got that part right. They might take some effort – all learning does – but there present no unnecessary barriers to readers.
Over five years, I imagined, researched and produced five books, in partnership with arts organisations or others interested in the idea. Each one deliberately focused on an aspect of artistic life that is not much valued by the contemporary art world. Each also shaped set out to be not just arts-led but collaborative, exploratory, open source and socially engaged. The books can be downloaded from this website as PDFs (just click on the titles below). Printed copies are also available at £10 including postage, while stocks last: just email me through the contact page if you want one.
Regular Marvels II – From 2019
In 2015, I took a break from Regular Marvels, as I began work on A Restless Art, a different project about the origins, history, theory and practice of participatory art. Since that was not about my present creative work, it got its own website and the book, published in 2019, is available there to download. With that book finished, I wanted to see if I could still make art with people and, if so, what what would be the result. I applied for a small creative writing commission: 10 two-hour workshops with older people in Leicester. To my surprise, what came out of that was a lovely small book – a collective text produced by the group. Inspired by Joe Brainard’s 1970 book ‘I Remember’ it’s called I Remember: Leicester and it became Regular Marvel number 6, though it’s rather different from its predecessors.
And now, I’ve begun work on a huge, three year project to make community operas in Irelands Portugal and Spain, working with an exceptional group of artists, technologists and researchers, To be honest, I’ve no idea what’s going to happen but I think it will be exciting and I’m confident the journey will be worthwhile. So this site will document that work, and other community art projects that I’m working on. If you have thoughts or questions, please do get in touch. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy reading what you find here.