In the 4th of my series of artist interviews I’ve been chatting to Hannah Ayre. Hannah works as a participatory artist, educator and producer and is based in Edinburgh.
Can you tell me about your work as an artist?
I’m a participatory artist. In usual times I work for a range of arts, educational and heritage organisations in Scotland and across the UK, and occasionally internationally. I trained in ceramics, so clay is my first love, but I work with all manner of materials, depending on the project and the group of people that I’m working with.
You work quite a lot outdoors?
Yes, that started with my ceramics training, I built outdoor, sculptural kilns, which I set fire to in a dramatic way and that’s what I’ve continued doing. I’ve done some fire drawings at different events. With recent worry that our cultural institutions may be closing down, I’ve always been interested in arts outside of formal settings. That’s something that I’ve done throughout my career. I work often on festivals, which might be in different locations in a city centre, people who may never have set foot in an art gallery may stumble across it, I’ve always enjoyed the accessibility of outdoor art.
And you do a lot of educational workshops as well, what kind of organisations and groups do you work with?
One of my biggest clients is Historic Environment Scotland, they look after historic properties across Scotland, I also work for museums and galleries. I do a lot of work with an arts production company called Curated Place , we put on a lot of festivals of arts, education and music. I’ve even branched out into science festivals, there’s a lot of similarities between artists and scientists, in science there’s an awful lot of experimentation and problem solving which is very much what artists do too. I tend to collaborate a lot in my work and that’s been an interesting working relationship.
I’ve also worked with Kew Gardens, running an Easter holiday festival for families, Using arts and crafts as a way of helping children to learn about the collections there. I’ve been designing activities, managing the festival and managing a team of staff there.
And you get to travel quite a lot as part of your work?
In the past few years I’ve worked in Norway for a research project, in Iceland for a Music festival and in Abu Dhabi for a science festival. Last autumn I created a fire drawing for a Halloween festival in Ireland. We’re currently coming up with creative solutions for how we might potentially deliver that project again this year.
How have you been coping with lockdown in terms of your work?
I’ve been keeping incredibly busy, trying to save my career and diversify, because my work revolves around people. So that’s problematic when you can’t meet with people. I’d seen it coming in other parts of the world, so I was quite forward thinking when other people were in denial. I was busy buying all the decorating kit to set up my home studio and I now have a beautiful new space to work in. Having that space to work in gives me a change of scenery, it’s also a real sense of achievement.
Have you been able to reach out to your audience online during lockdown?
Some of the organisations I work with have been quiet, larger organisations tend to be slower to react. I’ve been doing some self-led projects and learning. I took it upon myself to make an instructional video to present to clients to show I could take my work online and I promoted that on Social Media. It was picked up by the National Museum of Scotland and they’ve commissioned me to make an instructional video for them and a craft activity. They have a page called Museum at Home , it’s full of activities aimed at children, many are suitable for adults too.
I saw your recreations of famous paintings on Instagram, how did that come about?
There’s been a trend for it. A gallery in the United States started it off, I joined a Facebook group of people doing this in Lockdown. It was a bit of light relief amongst the doom and gloom. I did a few of my own, and also asked members of the group if I could use their recreations and put together an activity sheet. I invested some of my self-employed grant on an Ipad, I’ve been working on my graphic design skills.
I’ve been putting together activity sheets, the latest of these is on soap carving, it’s an activity that I’ve been doing for many years in workshops and it’s very apt at a time when we are all washing our hands. It’s also a really relaxing activity, when I’ve done face to face workshops, people have commented on how relaxing it is.
I’ve been taking part in a project called ‘100 days Scotland’ it started off as a drawing challenge but its now evolved to cover a broad range if things. I‘ve been doing 100 days of cyanotypes, I’ve been teaching cyanotype workshops for many years but I’ve never had chance to really delve in to it. I’ve been able to paint my own papers and play around with fabrics, instead of using ready-made, coated paper. I have some ultra violet lights that have been useful (to use for exposure) whilst we’ve not been able to go outdoors during lockdown.
I’m learning and upskilling at the moment. I’ve got really into collage, earlier this year I worked with my local community to make a collaborative collage working with Trinity House Maritime Museum in Leith which is near to where I live. I scoured Scotland’s digital archives to find images of old Leith, I also posted on local Facebook groups, asking people what would represent new Leith. We built a collage based on these images. I’ve since been experimenting with digital techniques on my Ipad.
I guess interacting with audiences online has opened up a whole new area for artists during lockdown
I think the difficult thing for artists is how to monetise it, as the Internet is swamped with free stuff, how to get paid for it is the tricky thing.
Is sustainability an important part of your practice?
Yes, I’ve always been interested in it, it’s possible when it’s purely your own work, when you are studying, but within the parameters of working with clients, their views on sustainability may not be as evolved as yours, so it’s only been in more recent times that my regular clients are getting interested in it. At the beginning of lockdown, I took part in an event organised by Applied Arts Scotland called ‘Greening your practice’, that was adapted to take place via zoom. While we’re thinking about what changes we need to make in our practice and having a rethink, it’s important to include this strand. Artwork can be ephemeral. We’ve got houses full of stuff, we don’t need more stuff, but what we do need are enriching experiences.
Thankyou to Hannah for talking about her work and to Arts Council England and National Lottery Players for supporting my work at this time.