Events

OPEN ROOMS #4: INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING W/ COLIN WILKINSON

21 May 2020

Open Eye Stories

4 May 2020

Open Rooms

4 May 2020

Exhibitions

Online Programme

15 March 2020

Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #16 – PAULINA KOROBKIEWICZ

1 March - 31 March 2020

Main Exhibition Future Exhibitions

Postponed: The Time We Call Our Own

3 April 2020

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #15 – JONATHAN LYNCH

1 February - 29 February 2020

Projects

PLATFORM Issue 01

21 January 2020

LAUNCH: THE DARK FIGURE*

20 February - 20 February 2020

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE #14 – SAHAN NUHOGLU

16 January 2020

Exhibitions

VISUAL RIGHTS

16 January - 22 March 2020

Exhibitions

THE DARK FIGURE*

20 February - 22 March 2020

Past Exhibitions

EXPOSED

3 April 2020

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: NOW, FOR THE FUTURE – OPEN SOURCE X SHUTTER HUB

1 November - 30 November 2019

Brilliant City 中文

30 October - 16 November 2019

Exhibitions

Tong Yan Gai — Chinatown—中文

7 October - 24 October 2019

Exhibitions

HE 中文

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

JUMP! 中文

4 October - 26 October 2019

Exhibitions

A Room of Our Own: a Fast Forward Women in Photography Exhibition 中文

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

DINU LI: ANATOMY OF PLACE — (中文)

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

Peer to Peer 中文

17 October - 22 December 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 12 – KATHY ANNE LIM

1 October - 31 October 2019

Past Exhibitions

LOOK PHOTO BIENNIAL / SATELLITE

17 October - 21 December 2019

JUMP! — Curated by Sian Bonnell

4 October - 26 October 2019

UCLan: Brilliant City

30 October - 16 November 2019

Exhibitions

Derek Man & Tobias Brebner: Tong Yan Gai — Chinatown

7 October - 24 October 2019

Exhibitions

YAN WANG PRESTON: HE

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

A Room of Our Own: a Fast Forward Women in Photography Exhibition

17 October - 21 December 2019

Exhibitions

Dinu Li: The Anatomy of Place

17 October - 21 December 2019

Past Exhibitions

NORTH: FASHIONING IDENTITY

14 September - 21 December 2019

Past Exhibitions

Peer to Peer

17 October - 22 December 2019

Past Exhibitions

SIXTEEN at Ellesmere Port Library

19 September - 27 September 2019

WE ARE KIRKBY

23 September - 16 November 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 11 – NATHAN CUTLER

1 September - 30 September 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 10 – JOCELYN ALLEN

1 August - 31 August 2019

Exhibitions

A Portrait Of…

2 August - 29 September 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 09 – ARABELLE ZHUANG

1 July - 31 July 2019

Past Exhibitions

Close Attention

11 July - 21 July 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

New York Scene/Unseen: Keith Haring and Friends

14 June - 7 July 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 08 – DENISA N. MOLNAR

1 June - 30 June 2019

Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: TRANSFORMATIVE MOMENTS – STEPHANIE WYNNE

1 April - 7 July 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 07 – MARIE SMITH

1 May - 31 May 2019

Projects

VR — Wake Up Together (Ren Hang & Where Love is Illegal)

23 April 2019

Exhibitions

Belonging: Students of Whitby High School

18 April - 28 April 2019

Exhibitions Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 06 – MARIA ANSELL

1 April - 30 April 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 05 – ELIZABETH GLEAVE

1 March - 31 March 2019

Past Exhibitions

DIGITAL WINDOW GALLERY: OPEN SOURCE 04 – LEIA MORRISON

1 February - 28 February 2019

Past Exhibitions

Here And Now

19 February - 23 February 2019

Exhibitions

PAULINE ROWE & DAVE LOCKWOOD – THE ALLOTMENTS

29 August - 28 September 2019

Exhibitions

TABITHA JUSSA & JOHN DAVIES – CAN’T SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

6 June - 4 July 2019

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S., Hidden Presence project, Wales.
Peoples Bureau, skill exchange with massage, cv writing, bread fermentation and embroidery, Elephant&Castle Shopping Centre.

A Spotlight On… Eva Sajovic

This month, Then There Was Us editor and practitioner Jonny Tomlinson spoke to artist Eva Sajovic about what being a socially engaged photographer means to her and what it stands for.

Jonny: With socially engaged photography being what I’d consider one of the lesser known practices within the photographic world, I’m intrigued to know what influenced you to get involved with this type of work and what the term “socially engaged” means to you.

Eva: I know some people are irritated by the term “socially engaged”, suspecting that it is just fashionable jargon. But for me it communicates something critical about my role as an artist. I am rejecting the conception of the artist as an independent or abstract observer. I am rejecting the idea of art as separate from politics. Personally I don’t believe any artist can be “non political”, but sometimes art is political only unconsciously (for example by adopting or reinforcing cultural norms). By designating myself as “socially engaged” I am aiming first, to communicate that my art is relevant to the political crises we are facing, and second to provoke a discussion about the role of the artist more generally. For me personally, growing up in communist Yugoslavia has ingrained in me a critical stance to political ideology and consumerism. I also grew up feeling like an outsider. By working with those marginalised by society I am connecting to, and trying to understand, part of my own story.

Jonny: What do you believe are the key “rules” behind being a socially engaged artist. 

Eva: There are two key rules, which are easy to state in theory, but sometimes harder to apply in practice:

  1. First, the socially engaged artist must avoid manipulating or exploiting those they work with for their own purposes (particularly where they are working with those who are already vulnerable or marginalised)
  2. Second, they must be wary of “art-washing”, where corporations or others offer funding to the artist to portray a veneer of social responsibility over activities that are socially destructive or reckless.

I have had some difficult learning experiences in both these areas.

Jonny: You state that your work looks at themes surrounding poverty, trafficking, culture and climate change. Would you class your work as being intentionally political?

Eva: As I explained in the first answer, I do consider my work to be intentionally political. Humanity is at a crossroads, in the midst of intersecting crises of health, climate and inequality. We know we can’t go back to how things were before, but people struggle to imagine how we might organise ourselves differently. To be an artist at this moment is a privilege. In crisis there is creativity. It’s our role as artists to be at the vanguard of social change, leaning into the uncertainty and helping others to imagine different possibilities – different ways of relating to each other and to natural resources. I have seen in my own life, the danger that fear and alienation creates the conditions for authoritarianism and fascism, and yes, I believe it’s our collective responsibility to prevent that happening, and to use art to connect us to each other through our common humanity.

Jonny: You say that by working with those marginalised by society, that you are connecting to, and trying to understand part of your own story. Could you expand on this?

Eva: For most of my life I felt myself an outsider. First on a personal level, as a child coming from a disrupted family with an unconventional setup. In a physical sense for being super tall…. I just wanted normality. Then on the level of collective consciousness. The country I come from, Slovenia, has always been subservient, for example, dominated by the artificially created federation of Yugoslavia and before that the Austro-Hungarian empire. That created a certain culture of acceptance but at the same time of resistance in the people, a disregard for the dominant rule, which I guess I internalised. So working with those who are marginalised has helped me to understand myself better and why I have been feeling on the margins all my life.

I connect to the margins because I reject the dominant and the colonial. In terms of coming to London I immediately felt a sense of belonging around the communities of E & C but felt an outsider in more mainstream and affluent areas of London, sometimes feeling I was being looked down on as an “Eastern European”.

Jonny: In 2006, you started work in Elephant & Castle, a borough of London that is steeped in cultural history. What was the initial response to the arts space that you set up within the unit of a local shopping centre?

 Eva: Studio at the Elephant was a collaboration with my friend Rebecca Davies (“Becks”). Becks was born in the area and was more or less a local. I was a local in two senses, first as a resident, but second as an immigrant. So we weren’t intruding into the community, we were already part of it and I think that’s how it was perceived. The Shopping Centre is a community place as much as a commercial space and being part of it felt both familiar and welcoming. At the time “the regeneration” was already underway, and the Studio helped to bring people together and to build a sense of solidarity through discussion and creativity and a sense of resistance to the domination of corporate forces.

Jonny: This project was started to create a document of the people and the place that are a part of this ever transforming landscape. How have you as an artist developed and sustained your practice to still be working with the same community and place for so long?

Eva: I haven’t been working exclusively in the area. During the same time I’ve also worked in Wales on the theme of racism, and with young women who have been trafficked. I’ve worked around the UK with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups, and more recently internationally on the climate crisis.

The ongoing background of work in the Elephant provides a sort of dialectic around identity, between the anchor point of “home” and a searching and reaching beyond. On the one hand, I still feel like a village girl, from a small town in Slovenia, on the other I am also a traveller who always felt I would need to leave one day.

You could think of Elephant & Castle as the world roundabout, a point of coming and goings where so many cultures meet, but at the same time a community and a village. So I can keep working here without ever standing still.

Jonny: Along with working in E & C, you’ve worked in Wales on the theme of racism, with young women who have been trafficked and around the UK with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups. How did you come into contact with all of these opportunities?

Eva: My projects are often self initiated – I start small and build up over time. I also work on commissions but these are also always in connection with themes that interest me. Work with the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller communities started as a self initiated brief, in collaboration with groups and individuals in London, Slovenia and Italy. I then approached a local group that worked with Travellers in Southwark and together we produced a film and a small publication aimed at sharing a way of living and dispelling the stereotypes. This was presented at an event organised by Lucy Orta and included in the book Mapping the Invisible published by the Black Dog Publishing. A couple more steps down the line, together with Lucy Davies (director of 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning) we applied to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and received a grant from the social justice department for the DreamMakers project which was UK wide, working with the young people from these communities and help them develop skills in representation through film, photography and storytelling. The work resulted in exhibitions in each of the different locations (Glasgow, Peterborough, London and Bolton), a coming together show at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning and a book.

The work in Wales was in response to a commission called “Hidden Presence”. The project was advertised and I applied for the role. The starting point was the history of Nathaniel Wells, the son of Welsh merchant and a slave from St Kitts, who in 1818 became a High Sheriff and in 1820 was commissioned into the British Army as a lieutenant. There was a portrait of him in Piercefield House, in Chepstow, which whitewashed this piece of history by showing him as white skinned (hence the name of the project). The commission was to take this starting point and work with young adults in the area on an interactive project, using film, photography drawing and archive research, exploring themes of identity, exploitation, including sexual exploitation, and modern day slavery.

Jonny: What have you been working on in recent years?

Eva: While I’ve continued to explore the theme of displacement, I’ve shifted my emphasis in two particular ways. As the destruction of the conditions that make this planet habitable gathers pace, I’ve worked more around the impacts of the climate crisis, including a project “Picturing Climate” that involved collaboration with groups in Jordan, Cuba and Bosnia. But the project involved flying to those countries, and as the project progressed I took the decision that that was no longer something I could do. I’ve become more and more concerned with the role of the artist, and feel that my own practice, and the forms that it takes, should prefigure and embody the principles for a more sustainable way of life.

The same concern has caused me to revisit my role as a photographer. For me photography was inextricably linked with the darkroom and my direct involvement with the physical process of making the image. As I became more and more occupied with the harmful impacts of the materials (such as silver and gelatin) and chemicals involved in the process, I have abandoned the dark-room for the loom, where I integrate plastic (eg from plastic bags) into the process of weaving, re-using and upcycling rather than causing more harm. I am planting flax to produce linen. Recently I have been trialing using plants to develop my films too.

For me this is work linked to identity and belonging, bringing me into closer connection with our common home – a form of collaboration not just with other people but with the natural world on which we all depend.

Jonny: I find it really interesting that your role as a photographer has gone full circle. Do you think this is something that’ll stick with you now and forever, and relating back to the first question I asked you. Do you think you’ll always class yourself as a ‘Socially Engaged Photographer’?

Eva: Maybe my role has come full circle in the way of the Elephant & Castle roundabout, never stationary, ideas and feelings still coming and going. And maybe there’s a sense in which society is coming full circle: whereas low consumption societies and ways of life have for long been regarded as “primitive” or “old-fashioned” they are now the new avant garde. The first programme language was developed on a loom by Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, so yes, I do see weaving as a prototype for computing and digital photography, so in that way too, there’s a sense of returning to origins. I’m growing flax for weaving, which is a reminder that the sun’s energy and photosynthesis is the start of the process, just as light is the essence of photography. But I don’t think I’ve reached any sort of resting place, nor will I so long as I’m a “socially engaged practitioner”, because I see that role as responding to the world around me, which is in a constant state of flux. And yes, in so far as I see weaving as a form of photography I still consider myself a “socially engaged photographer”.

Jonny: And on the same point again, do you believe that all the projects that you’ve led over the years could be carried out in a sustainable way that potentially wouldn’t include photography or at least the way you work with photography?

Eva: Photography has played a central role in many of my projects over the years. The power of photography to bring the viewer into a direct relationship with the subject is not easy to replicate through other media. So I’m not looking to make a general statement that we don’t need photography or that all photography should be replaced with weaving. I’m concerned with something both more abstract and more personal, with exploring the role of the artist through my own feelings about consumption and sustainability. But I think, as the current situation is showing us, we should take nothing for granted and we need to be resilient, innovative and able to adapt to radically changing circumstances.

Jonny: Do you have any more projects in the pipeline?

Eva: I’ve recently taken up a permanent post at Camberwell College of Arts and I’m interested in developing collaborative projects with the students. There are two other specific projects I’d like to mention.

“This Is A Call”. Along with three others, we have put out a call to artists to produce an artistic response to the following three questions:

  1. What is the future of living?
  2. What is home?
  3. What is the role of the artist?

 

Using a financial award we received from our film “Unearthing Elephant”, we have been able to offer financial support to five artists internationally, and will make a film of the collective output, and provide a platform for it to be as visible and democratic as possible.

I am also working on a project in Italy where we will bring young artists into contact with businesses to develop a new sustainable product.

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