Launderettes and social history: Q&A with Shannon Watson
Following her installation at our Degree Shows, where she won the highly coveted Spike Island Graduate Residency, BA (Hons) Fine Art graduate Shannon Watson went on to expand her work through a public performance piece, as part of The Atlantic Project on Plymouth’s Hoe, before heading to Bristol to begin her residency.
Through her socially engaged practice, Shannon aims to generate awareness for sociocultural histories attached to contemporary environments. She often conducts local research, interacting with people that have personal connections with particular locations or themes, often leading to collaboratively constructed installations and live public events.
We sat down with Shannon to chat about her work and residency at Spike Island, her process and her future plans.
We loved your performance on Plymouth’s Hoe last year, can you tell us about what you’ve been working on since then?
I’ve been exploring Laundrettes in relation to the history of washing clothes. Historically washing clothes would be an irregular, laborious process once known as The Great Wash. A range of obscure ‘detergents’ were used including human urine.
Whilst cleaning methods have become more efficient, they have also become more isolated. The invention of the washing machine allowed people to wash their clothes in their own home rather than out in public with others as a communal event.
I have been working on a project which draws on some of these historical ideas of washing clothes (not the urine detergent!) and experimenting with the social potential within a laundrette.
Can you tell us in three words what it felt like to be awarded the Spike Island graduate residency?
Surprising, exciting, nervous.
What has it been like working in a studio at Spike Island?
The opportunity to be a part of the Spike Island community has been so productive. There is a great atmosphere within the studio and everyone is so open and friendly. It’s reassuring to acknowledge a working community of artists outside of the education setting.
Can you give us an insight into your working process? How do you get from start to finish?
I spend relaxed time interacting with the people and place that my curiosity draws me to. My process is driven by research. As an inquisitive person, I spend time with people related to my themes, learning from individuals first-hand experiences. This informal research is how my projects develop.
I never start a project with the idea of an outcome. They start as personal curiosities which I delve into. The artwork is my personal response to the research I have accumulated. My attempt at sharing with people the things which have grabbed my attention.
In what way has the residency influenced your practice?
It’s given me the freedom to experiment with ways of presenting and editing my work within a gallery setting, as well as the chance to collaborate with other artists from different areas.
What do you read, listen to, or look at to fuel your work and find inspiration?
I just spend time with people. People I would not usually interact with. Curiosity leads me to particular people for their relationship to themes I’m interested in, often related to social history. I have conversations with these people to learn about things I don’t find on the internet or in books.
Tell us about your exhibition ‘For A Fellow’ in the Spike Island Test Space?
For A Fellow is a destination. Somewhere for you to stay a while. With a programme of events, including live sound, films and workshops, visitors were encouraged to spend time in the space. With seating, painting and text, the exhibition provided a chance for you to reflect, relax or chat.
Tell us about your time at the college, what was a highlight for you?
I would say the highlight would be the opportunity to be part of a supportive creative network. Not just within the college, but across the organisations around Plymouth. Everybody was willing to either offer guidance or point you in the direction of someone that could.
Based on your experiences, what advice would you give students who are due to graduate this year?
Take every opportunity that is offered to you, but also proactively seek out the opportunities for yourself. Get involved.
What’s next for you?
There has been talk of a second, more developed Immersive Orchestra, with a longer programme running up to the event. I am also hoping to continue with the laundrette project and have been talking with other artists about programming a series of events to activate the laundrette environment.