A series of conceptual art workshops for Open Book, a project that helps vulnerable adults gain access to Further Education courses at Goldsmiths, University of London...


Each participant developed a conceptual artwork in response to an open brief. They directed their own and each others art learning as a group of individuals with collective knowledge. Exhibition held at the Utrophia Project Space, Deptford


Introduction to the Open Gallery project...


During September and October 2008, Open Gallery was a weekly conceptual art class for those with backgrounds such as addiction and offending who previously not had the opportunity to make an artwork. The project has addressed a broad range of experiences, pre-conceptions, references, resistances and skill-bases surrounding art.

Statement of Heart 1 by Ibs (detail)

Some particpants had existing creative skills such as writing and carpentry, many have experience of art therapy classes, but some have never personally engaged in art in any form. All were part of Goldsmiths Open Book Project, who had arranged group trips to galleries and the theatre, plus a regular creative writing and theatre classes. Some are enrolled on foundation BA or MA courses at Goldsmiths, others were using Open Book as a way to get an idea of what university could be like for them. 

Untitled by Joe (detail)

Following an invitation from Open Book project leader, Joe Baden, to run a series of art classes with the group, we began a process of developing artworks with them for an exhibition. We worked to an open brief, with the participants suggesting the areas that might interest them, with Richard and I facilitating their ideas, offering advice and context, both personal and artistic.

Magma by Iain (detail)

The students began to become critical of their own first ideas and developed and changed their artworks through group and one-to-one discussions. The discussions were lively and candid and challenged all of our preconceptions of what art could or should be. The development of the works was a continuous dialogue - individually, as a group, and between the students and myself.

Untitled by Jason

There is a distinction between this project and art education projects that seek to teach technical skills or art history. I did not seek to teach skills to facilitate creative ideas as I did not wish to imply that such skills were necessary in art production. Neither did I seek to educate the students about art movements, artists or art history. Rather, there was a focus on an understanding of various methods of production suggested by the group or myself as all legitimate, and the challenge to be which method was more appropriate to the idea put forward by the student, generating a mixture of logical and intuitive suggestions and analysis.

I'm not a number but a free man by NP997529D

Given the personal histories of many members of Open Book, it would be easy to regard Open Gallery as art therapy. But, there is a difference between accepting the therapeutic elements of art production, and art as therapy.

Art therapy provided in a group situation is often given in a single medium with a purely therapeutic intention, analysed within the context of recovery.

It dePENds on your perspective by Danny (detail)

Often the personal therapeutic element of the works produced have been discussed explicitly with participants, an element of art practice which I have found to be rarely discussed within a fine art context. I have relished the opportunity to explicitly discuss this aspect of art practice, and clarify the intractable relationship between art production and the personal. A recurring conversation has been understanding and achieving socio-political affects of art production alongside personal therapeutic aims.    

North Star by Fiona (1 of 4)

The conversations we have had have often straddled the personal and art. Some people feel more comfortable with the personal as their starting point, and some with art. These two elements are inextricable, and there is an emphasis on making the artworks operate successfully on both levels.  

I am interested in the attempt to instate an applied autonomy; a social application of modernist ideals - which can be seen as a social ideology - previously expressed as minimalism's aesthetic autonomy.

Statement of Mind 1 by Ibs (detail)

In terms of this project, I have attempted to allow the participants the potential of art to transcend pre-existing economies, by encouraging them to create artefacts that reflect their own economy in terms of their own personal logic, systems, intuition and ethos.

Often it is the case that people consume their environment, rather than create it. They figure out how to negotiate what is available to them. Much expression happens within or using pre-existing languages, economies and systems, as does much communication.

Open Book by Anthony (detail)

The ethos behind the project was to allow the participants to respond creatively to their own environments, producing works that reflected their own order and sense of self. This is a break with traditional modes of identity building, based on consumption and participation in external systems. By making physical their own economy, they illustrate their unique position, and invite others to indicate a position around this.  

Bellyaches and Bumblebees by Sheelagh (detail)

Art can allow artefacts and languages to exist that transcend or undercut an otherwise prescribed world or existing economies. I believe there is value in encouraging people to explore and express their own logic, to create and understand their own language and order. Art has been used here as a tool for researching the world as the participants see it, using their own tools - looking at how their own ideas can be best expressed outside pre-determined systems and tools.  

Pitiless Orchids by Sue (detail)

A socio-political affect of this is that new languages could be built that better reflect society as it is now, rather than society as dictated through the restrictions of pre-existing formats. For example, by showing the viewer something unfamiliar their aesthetic experience and acceptance is expanded, potentially to social affect. Also, there is potential for social change in the context of the historical transference of visual paradigms from art into society.   

Opportunity by William (detail)

Suggested methods and media for the research and production of individual's works is tailored to them producing naturally diverse results. Reference points for 'good' work become personalised and more in depth, as there is no direct, literal or superficial comparison between the participants respective works in media or method. All participants invest and engage in the others' respective works, therein discussing and exploring a broad range art practice.


Press Release:

Open Gallery - an exhibition of artworks created by those from non-traditional backgrounds
Published: 30 October 2008

18, 19 and 20 November 2008, 12-7pm daily
Utrophia Project Space, 136 Tanners Hill, Deptford, London SE8 4QD

Open Gallery was devised by Goldsmiths' Fine Art alumna Hannah Hull, with the help of fellow alumnus Richard Hards, in response to an invitation from the Goldsmiths Open Book to run art classes for its members. Open Book is a project, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, that encourages and supports adults who would not usually follow an academic route - such as ex-offenders, recovering addicts and those with mental health issues - to pursue further and higher education.

Before joining Open Book, most members had not been to a gallery, let alone had the opportunity to make an artwork. Hannah and Richard wanted to open up the potential role that art could play in their lives. They have been working with 10 participants since September, helping them to develop conceptual and traditional artworks for exhibition. Working to an open brief, the participants have responded with diverse and dynamic artworks, using the process as a platform for discussion.

The ethos behind the project was to allow the participants to respond creatively to their own environments, producing works that reflected their own order and sense of self. This is a break with traditional modes of identity building, based on consumption and participation in external systems. By making physical their own economy, they illustrate their unique position, and invite others to indicate a position around this.

Joe Baden, Open Book Project Coordinator, says: "Previously, Open Book has worked exclusively to break down limits placed upon access to higher education. Through projects like Open Gallery, we hope to fight against cultural and artistic exclusion also.

"Hannah and Richard have reflected the ethos of Open Book by refusing to adopt middle-class, hegemonic aesthetic conventions associated with much fine art; consequently, the work is as culturally authentic as it comes. The project has been a wonderful experience for everyone involved."

Hannah Hull, who developed the concept for Open Gallery, says: "Open Book has been open and responsive to the idea of making artworks. The group's candid and lively discussions about art have challenged all of our pre-conceptions on what art is, and what it could or should be. The result is a vibrant exhibition like no other, encompassing feelings of hope, sadness, mischief, realism, searching and reflection."

With no budget and no workshop facilities, a body of work incorporating drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, performance and video has been created. The works will be exhibited at the Utrophia Project Space on Tanners Hill, Deptford on the 18, 19 and 20 November 2008 from 12-7pm daily.

Notes to Editors
Images and interviews with Hannah Hull, Richard Hards, Joe Baden or any of the participants of Open Gallery are available on request. Photos of the artworks will be available from the 18 November.

For further information
Hannah Hull
Tel: 079 3252 8888
Email: mail@hannahhull.co.uk