As we explore the legacy of The British Art Show 9 we take a look at some of the people that were inspired by it and inspired others too. None more so than the brilliant ambassadors, representatives from the local community, who tirelessly developed collaborations and engagement through a range of relevant and tailored activities, targeted at a specific community groups or networks.
Here we meet the brilliant Sue Lewry, who you might have seen out and about with her mobile printmaking unit, Colossal!
You’re one of the BAS9 ambassadors, but what else might we know you for?
I am a printmaker artist based in Plymouth. I have a fine art practice which focuses on my own image-making, and alongside that, I have a social approach which engages the general public in printmaking. I have a mobile screen printing unit called Colossal which I’ve been working with since 2018, which I take out and about to insert myself into public spaces.
What was it that made you want to get involved in the British Art Show?
I thought I could really do something with the ambassador role. It’s all about reaching audience, which I’m interested in in my practices, so I thought I’d fit that really well. Also, I’d get to work at a high level, and get to know the venues in the city and situate myself within that. I’m very specific about what I do so I had a clear idea of how that would work, using my agile practice with the mobile unit to engage different audiences, individuals and communities.
The British Art Show has been a great challenge – it’s allowed me to step into that space where I have to go among people who might consider themselves “non-art” people and engage them. One weekend, for example, I was among wild swimmers on Tinside beach who were asking “why?”, and “what is it?”. The British Art Show has allowed me to develop my confidence with that. I’ve also done printing in the pub with PDF designers, at Prime skatepark – all sorts.
At the same time it’s not prescriptive – I wasn’t there saying to people “do this, and then go and see the British Art Show”. It was more about riffing off the themes, especially ‘togetherness’. We make stuff together, and people’s questions about what it’s for are getting directly answered. “Imagining new futures” was a BAS9 theme I was threading out there subtly – what making stuff together can be like. We go out and find audiences that we feel resonate with us. Then we interpreted it through our voices.
Have you had any other things to do as part of the role?
We went up to see the show in Manchester together with Plymouth Culture and our coordinator Joe Lyward, which was great to get to know the other ambassadors. We got to look at and talk about the work together, and imagine what it would be like in Plymouth. What would it be like to step into a gallery if you hadn’t been to one before? What is it like to step over the threshold of a space you’ve never been in before?
How are you finding the experience so far? Has anything surprised you?
One thing I’ve been pleased with is how willing people are to get involved. They say “I don’t know what you’re doing, but let’s do it!” – it’s really good.
Joe had our proposals but told us to think about the project beyond our initial thought. That was great, to be treated like artists, handled with care and given that responsibility. It’s so good to feel part of a network where they want me to be seen and heard and I get to decide how that will happen. Thinking about what my voice is, what I want to say, and accessibility within that, has strengthened my project and given it a bit of legacy as well. Everyone I work with takes away a print – they have their own piece of art.
I’m playing with meeting people in person alongside doing work for people who can’t access me for various reasons. I use social media to communicate with those audiences – it’s becoming an important element for me. They can request prints and I send them out to them. I share photos but also videos of talking and thinking, and these things are becoming an art practice in themselves.
Did you have a favourite piece in the show itself?
There’s work like Abigail Reynolds’ installation at the Arts Institute which I was drawing from when choosing the paper colours. I went to Hannah Tuulikki’s singing workshop and did a piece by the waterside as a response to that – that was a wonderful experience.
Do you have more events planned?
I like to just pop up, guerrilla-style. If people want to know, I post a day or two before on social media through my own social media @suelewry (not Colossal’s).