Alice Bradshaw

on rubbish, mental wellbeing, and how art heals.

What do rubbish, artists, and mental health have in common? Alice Bradshaw! Alice is a visual artist from Elland, Calderdale, who co-creates work in communities, aiming to support mental wellbeing and open up conversation. One particular passion of hers is rubbish! Find out more in this episode.

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View Transcript

Show Notes

Alice’s website
Dwell Time – mental health project
Art Lab – support for creatives
Dwell Awhile Podcasts
Creative Recovery in Barnsley
‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Dr Bessell van der Kolk

Guest Info

Alice Bradshaw

Alice Bradshaw is an artist, curator and writer. She is interested in discarded, everyday materials and words. Recycling and repetition are important strategies in her work, which sets up a dialogue around the value of rubbish through objects, publications, exhibitions and events.

In 2018 she establish Dwell Time with fellow creatives, Vanessa Haley and Lenny Szrama – an award winning, not-for-profit publication reflecting on mental wellbeing,

Transcript

Sam McCormick:

Hello everyone and welcome to Curious e-Motion. I’m Sam McCormick. And today we take a trip to Huddersfield to meet Alice Bradshaw, a visual artist whose work spans many areas, including rubbish, mental health, and supporting artists in their recovery from the pandemic.

Sam McCormick:

Alice is from Elland, in Calderdale. I met her a few years ago when she got involved in Welland our wellbeing festival at the town. Alice co-created installations and projects with the local community. And I loved seeing how she was able to bring forward the stories and experiences of local people resulting in a strengthened sense of connection to each other and their town.

Sam McCormick:

This episode was recorded a few months ago before the local restrictions and the second lockdown, so I was lucky enough to meet with Alice in person, albeit safely distanced, of course.

Sam McCormick:

We met at the beautiful Huddersfield home of Dwell Time, a mental health arts project founded by Alice and the artists she collaborates with regularly. You’ll hear more about this in our chat. Let’s get into it.

Sam McCormick:

Right. Hello, Alice. Thank you for joining me. We’ve just had a lovely chat for about an hour, haven’t we? And we’re lucky enough to be together, but distanced in the same space, which feels very much like a treat. So, Alice, it would be really nice if we could have a little rundown of your work as an artist, what interests you and some of the projects that you’ve been involved in.

Alice Bradshaw:

Thanks for inviting me to have this conversation. I’m an artist, curator and writer based in Elland in West Yorkshire, and I’m really obsessed with rubbish. Lots of my practice incorporates rubbish, both making stuff out of rubbish and looking at other artists’ rubbish.

Alice Bradshaw:

My masters research at the university of Huddersfield was looking at the value of rubbish in art practice. And I’m really interested in discarded materials that the value of not just everyday materials, but about, and also the dialogue that comes about through talking about value of rubbish and art.

Alice Bradshaw:

One of the big projects I do at the moment with two other artist curators is called Dwell Time. So the space we’re in now is our HQ, Dwell Time central.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah it’s awesome. I love it.

Alice Bradshaw:

It’s a massive space. Its run by East Street Arts, so they have an empty shop program and we’re one of their studio holders.

Alice Bradshaw:

So Dwell Time does have as a publication reflecting on mental wellbeing. We have other strands now of podcasts, we’ve now got the space. We do a lot of interviews, so not just for the podcasts, generally, just talking about mental wellbeing with artists in the community.

Alice Bradshaw:

We’ve got two issues of our publication out now, and currently have an open call for responses to the pandemic that we launched. I think it was possibly the week before locked down. We were really early on in the process. So it was certainly very, very soon, very early in the pandemic crisis. And we’ve had a really awesome contribution to that. I think, well over 250 submissions today and really high quality and really varied and interesting.

Alice Bradshaw:

And then I’m also on the board of YVAN, the Yorkshire Visual Arts Network, and we’re looking at the quality and diversity of supporting artists and mental wellbeing is obviously part of that.

Alice Bradshaw:

Between my work with YVAN and Dwell Time, we’re very interested in the impact of COVID on artistic practice and mental wellbeing and how all those things interrelate and the importance of dialogue in that process as well.

Sam McCormick:

Wow. There’s so much in there, isn’t there? It’s no wonder we’ve already had a whole hour just catching up before you even got here.

Alice Bradshaw:

It’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Sam McCormick:

Dwell Time, I’m so interested in. So mental health is something that we work with at Curious Motion a lot as well. And this podcast, particularly, I think mental health is going to be probably even more of a focus for us than maybe we envisaged, but because of the pandemic and because of everything that everyone’s living through.

Sam McCormick:

How did Dwell Time come about? I know that it’s a quite a personal thing. Are you happy to talk about that?

Alice Bradshaw:

Yeah, sure. We talk about it in the editorial of publication [crosstalk 00:00:04:15], because I think it’s important to know where it’s come from and the personal significance of why we’re doing it.

Alice Bradshaw:

So my co-curator Vanessa and my friend killed himself in 2017. He was a really big advocate of the arts raising awareness about mental health. He wanted us to do something around the issues that he suffered with, which were bipolar and depression, particularly in young men.

Alice Bradshaw:

So we approached what was called Men’s Shed at the time next to Huddersfield’s Train Station, in alcove Platform 1. We wanted to do a project with them in memory of our friend, and to create a legacy for him. And they put us in touch with the Penistone Line Partnership. Unfortunately, the way that the funding came about, we couldn’t work in partnership with Platform 1, but we did Penistone Line Partnership and we worked with Community Rail, as well. And then issue two, Northern & Cross Country came on board [inaudible 00:05:07] as funders as well. So we had a portfolio of funders from the rail industry.

Alice Bradshaw:

And issue two was just about to be launched as we went into lockdown. So the week before official lockdown, we decided that it wasn’t safe to go ahead and we postponed it. And then it wasn’t possible anyway, because of government guidelines.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. I was going to say, so Dwell Time has the same website as well, is that right? So you can also access a lot of the publications and information there, as well.

Alice Bradshaw:

Yeah, dwelltimepress.wordpress.com has pretty much all our content or links to external content, like interviews on YouTube and stuff. So there is the PDF version online. Unfortunately, because of the amount of images it’s quite low rez, so you don’t get the full-

Sam McCormick:

Experience, yeah.

Alice Bradshaw:

It’s always better in print. They are available, because they’re free publications. They are available to post, but because we don’t have budget postage, we ask people to pay that. And so if anybody wants any number of copies, they can always get in touch.

Sam McCormick:

I’m just interested to know what you’ve learned from the work so far.

Alice Bradshaw:

I think what I’ve learned, and this is through speaking to people, friends, community, through workshops we’ve done, is that there’s a really dire lack of provision out there for people struggling with their mental health. People on waiting lists for really long lengths of time.

Alice Bradshaw:

So preventative is definitely an understood best way of working. You try and it’s early intervention with mental health, so it doesn’t become a crisis. So unfortunately, with the lack of provision and support, people tend to only get intervention when they’re at crisis points. And that just comes down to funding, I think.

Alice Bradshaw:

I think the government chronically underfunded mental health services for so long that it was already at a crisis level before COVID. And I don’t think that they’ve proportionately invested in it with what inevitably is I’m going to be a mental health crisis as a result of this.

Alice Bradshaw:

We were talking before this interview about collective trauma. And this is some of the research that I’m looking at now. What we’re experiencing with this pandemic is a collective trauma, because it’s not a one-off incident, like an actual disaster. It’s a prolonged thing. There’s parallels, I think, in history, but then we don’t have that much knowledge about how this is going to affect us, so it’s new territory, but we do know what a trauma response is like and people are exhibiting those signs already.

Alice Bradshaw:

So I think that, for me, the arts has got a really pivotal role to play in this. One of the books I’m reading at the moment is called The Body Keeps the Score, and it talks about when we have a trauma response, the Broca’s area of our brain, which is responsible for language, shuts down. They know this from fMRIs so the people that have been exposed to trauma, they re-expose and this area shuts down.

Alice Bradshaw:

So the trauma response in the brain that can be measured lights up and the Broca area shuts down. Hence, the terms speechless and loss for words. When we’re struggling with words and speaking and expressing ourselves and our emotions, it may be from a trauma response. And I think that speaking to a lot of artists and friends, we’re struggling to find the words. And I think that it’s because of this collective trauma.

Sam McCormick:

You’re working with professional artists and then community members as well. Is that right?

Alice Bradshaw:

Yeah. Pre-COVID, we worked variously with community groups or other artists, so it’s a complete mix of different people. And also with our open calls, there’s no criteria that anybody has to have formal experience or qualifications. So we’ve published people’s work where they’ve never… It’ll be the first poem they’ve written [crosstalk 00:08:52] work. So we did a workshop with them, a Creative Recovery in Barnsley, and one woman said, I don’t think I’ve written a poem since school. This is the second poem I’ve written in my life.

Sam McCormick:

Wow.

Alice Bradshaw:

And it was great. And we published it. For us, it’s such a lovely thing to be able to do for somebody. And that will sit alongside a professional artist’s piece of work. And they’re given equal placement on the page.

Sam McCormick:

So with your own practice, has it been anything from the pandemic that you’ve tried that maybe you wouldn’t have tried before? Anything like that?

Alice Bradshaw:

Yeah, one of the other projects that I run is Art Lab that [crosstalk 00:09:24], so that’s a peer support group where artists present their work. And then we talk about it in a really relaxed and friendly, supportive way. It’s not exclusive to artists to attend, so anybody that’s interested in that can attend.

Sam McCormick:

Nice.

Alice Bradshaw:

And then obviously, with the pandemic, that couldn’t happen live in person. I tried a few different things then decided to try doing it over Zoom. So it has a really similar format to the original meetups where artists would present, screen share and talk through their work and then we have a Q&A. And that seems to be working really well. And the positive is, because there’s no travel considerations we’ve had artists from London and Mexico join us and it has the potential to be international because of that.

Alice Bradshaw:

And certainly, were continuing with the Zoom meetings now, but it could be going forward that, that continues online even if we get to meet up in person [inaudible 00:10:18] parallel. I know some other organizers are trialing this dual in-person/online. So they’ll live stream an in-person event for the people that maybe are shielding or somewhere else, so I think this is probably is going to be, the future for art [inaudible 00:10:34].

Sam McCormick:

So where did the interest in rubbish come from?

Alice Bradshaw:

I think I can trace it back right through to undergraduate studies. There’s definitely been this reoccurring interest and it all became a focus in 2010, when I set up the Museum of Contemporary Rubbish. And with the collective I was working with at the time called Contents May Vary, we would curate exhibitions and events and put our own work alongside, although invited artists or selected artists.

Alice Bradshaw:

And for my work, for the Barnaby Art Market in Macclesfield, was the Museum of Contemporary Rubbish where I had my own studio rubbish that I was exchanging for the rubbish that people had on them, so I didn’t publicize this in advance. It was literally what people had in their pocket that you don’t want anymore.

Sam McCormick:

Right.

Alice Bradshaw:

Swap some rubbish. And then I first wrapped all the items of rubbish that I collected in a really… I photograph them so that it was all about the object-ness of them, if that makes sense. [crosstalk 00:11:36] So I put them on a metal shelf out of reflective quality and made sure the lighting was as well as it could be. And that sparked off this whole interest in rubbish and then became my obsession and masters.

Sam McCormick:

I love it.

Alice Bradshaw:

And I think it links in with, like you said, it links in with so many different things, like the environment, throw-away society we’re living in, capitalism, and all these systems and the way that the world works. Recycling is an obvious thing rather than throwing it away and buying something new. Recycling is just… Or up-cycling, even. I’m not a massive fan of the term, but it does the job. So that rather than using virgin materials, and throwing away and creating landfill, use something and make it into something different.

Alice Bradshaw:

And I think my interest in rubbish, as well, comes from the minutia of life. The tiny little things of every day and then recognizing the beauty in something. I’ll go and run on the canal. And if I see rubbish, then I take photographs of it and put it on my Instagram is found compositions, so rubbish I’m very obsessed with. I think it’s beautiful.

Sam McCormick:

Oh nice.

Alice Bradshaw:

There’s an aesthetic formal qualities of rubbish, but then it does have this environmental concern, and has this social anthropological aspect as well, because at the point that we discovered rubbish, we’re making this value judgment of it. And I find that fascinating.

Alice Bradshaw:

I did a residency at the [inaudible 00:13:07] recycling center that was asking people about their rubbish. So it has been a social research as well, really, because when someone’s throwing something away, I’d ask them to take a photograph [crosstalk 00:13:17] to get information to put in the museum.

Alice Bradshaw:

It’s talking about acquiring the knowledge and rubbish, and information about the rubbish. So they’re telling me why they were throwing it away and that was fascinating. It was a really interesting project. A lot of it was coming from bereavement. So when someone had died, so it was house clearance. When relationships are broken down and they were moving out, people throw lots away, sometimes it was just a large item that the curbside collection couldn’t take. And then sometimes it was people were just redoing their living room up. But yeah, that whole what do we value? And for what reasons.

Sam McCormick:

That is so interesting.

Alice Bradshaw:

What was also interesting, so I talked to the staff there a lot. Contrary to what used to happen it doesn’t all go in landfill, so that’s why they have all of them separated, skips. They have almost a stock market exchange of value to the rubbish, so it’s not a fixed value. It is not per kilo or whatever, it has a fixed value. It’s got its own little stock market depending on demand.

Alice Bradshaw:

One of the good things that could come out this pandemic is people’s appreciation of maybe connections in society and people over material things. We need food and we need shelter, but I think, yeah maybe, because we haven’t had the ability to socialize in the way that we need to, as social beings, people will realize how important it is over the material stuff.

Sam McCormick:

I assume Dwell Time is keeping going. Do you just accept submissions whenever people send them in?

Alice Bradshaw:

Yeah. So at some point, if we do, do a print version of the COVID response, we’ll put a deadline on that, for obvious reasons. And we did say that if we stopped getting submissions, it would naturally come to end. And then it slowed down, we were getting about two a day, and that slowed down to maybe four a week. So they’re still coming, but I think people going back to work –

Sam McCormick:

And there’s so much change, isn’t there, at the moment.

Alice Bradshaw:

Yeah, and people’s time has suddenly become… There’s more demands on people’s time. So various different factors means that submissions have slowed down, but we really want to do a print version. At the moment, we’re in this R&D phase of the podcasts, but there’s plenty of mileage to do some work around the mental health impacts of COVID, especially on artists. So I think this is going to be our direction moving forward and platforming voices and supporting artists.

Alice Bradshaw:

Artists have had a really rough deal of this, because of missed out on the… Lots of artists missed out on the freelance grant, sorry, not freelance grant-

Sam McCormick:

Self-employed, yeah.

Alice Bradshaw:

Because we’re freelancers, we’re not part of an organization’s go from furlough, lots of us have been really struggling. Lots of us are going to have to go into other employment, because lecturer posts have been scrapped. There’s a real worry that the artists that rely on on other forms of income, such as gallery work and lecturing work are not going to have that work, so they’re going to have to do something else, potentially that’s much more hours for the pay that they need. May not be able to get any work at all.

Alice Bradshaw:

I think, we’ve been talking to an artist and one of our podcasts about universal basic income and about how that would solve a lot of problems for a lot of people, but especially for the art community.

Alice Bradshaw:

So yeah, finding out what the issues are currently for artists and how best to support them is really the kind of direction that we’re going in at the moment. And that’s going to come through talking and listening and holding that space for people as best we can.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. I think that’s it. That’s what we need. Holding, listening, having that space and providing these voices that are often not heard.

Alice Bradshaw:

Absolutely.

Sam McCormick:

And being there for each other.

Alice Bradshaw:

Yeah.

Sam McCormick:

Thank you, Alice. Oh, what’s the podcast called that you’re working on at the minute?

Alice Bradshaw:

It’s called Dwell Awhile.

Sam McCormick:

Oh yes. Lovely. So look out for Dwell Awhile, as well. Yeah. And thank you so much.

Alice Bradshaw:

You’re welcome.

Sam McCormick:

It’s been a pleasure.

Alice Bradshaw:

It’s been a really, really good chat. Thank you.

Sam McCormick:

Thank you.

Sam McCormick:

Thank you to Alice, that was such a wonderful chat. The ideas around value judgments and rubbish, and the role of the arts in our collective recovery from the pandemic have really stayed with me.

Sam McCormick:

If you’re interested in getting involved in any of Alice’s projects, please do check out the show notes for all the info. Remember, everyone is welcome. Whatever level of experience you have, Alice offers a safe space for you to connect and express yourself.

Sam McCormick:

A big thank you to our funders, once again, for their support in making this podcast happen. I can’t believe we’re in December already. New episodes will continue to be out every Tuesday until Christmas.

Sam McCormick:

Then we’ll be working on ideas for series two. Do let us know if there’s been a favorite episode so far, or a topic you’d like us to focus on. This podcast is here for you and we want to include your ideas. So please do let us know.

Sam McCormick:

In the meantime, remember to tune into your body, be kind to yourself and stay curious.