It’s a new year and a new month, which means we’ve just had an exhibition of fantastic artwork featured in No34’s Gallery.
We make a real effort here at No.34 to make creativity and culture as accessible as possible, and plenty of people passing up and down the High Street are starting to engage more and more with art, thanks to artists like Nicole Mollett whose exhibition was on show here in January 2017.
Nicole Mollett is an accomplished artist and illustrator and is no stranger to Ideas Test (most recently having designed our 2016 Christmas Card). In December she co-led a Magic Lantern workshop complete with performances, then returned in January to exhibit More Than 100 Stories in the Window Gallery at No34. Knowing that we’re keen to share artwork with as much of Sittingbourne as we can reach, More Than 100 Stories filled up the Window Gallery wonderfully. So well, in fact, that it worked its way up into the Stairwell too. The space at No34 gives you plenty to ponder as you ascend and descend the stairs at No34; often you see a new piece of work that has been there the whole time, but your gaze has only just located it. Joking that her approach to almost everything is to ‘cram in as much detail as possible’, when we sat down to ask how Nicole how she decided to best utilise the exhibition space, her response was modest and amusing. “Why would I change things when doing a display!”
More Than 100 Stories is a collaborative commission with writer Sarah Butler so it’s no surprise that the exhibition was formed of an impressive amount of art work: double the input, double the output. In the interview, Nicole spoke a bit about the significance of collaboration, affirming it’s definitely ‘positive rather than a negative’. Nicole went on to explain that the principal purpose of collaboration is ‘that the artwork itself is amazing, not that only my name should be on it’, which is clearly a great ethos that Nicole has harnessed over her many years of experience.
Ideas Test is continually working to bring a broader variety of art into the local community, so we often have artists in residence at No34 who create art directly in the space it is then to be exhibited. Last year Nicola Flower and Simon Martin accomplished two completely different types of residency and as the first artist to be resident in 2017, Nicole brought yet another flavour of creativity to the streets of Sittingbourne. Using the ten themes that provided the basis for More Than 100 Stories as the starting points for her daily drawings, Nicole toiled away tirelessly adding new pieces to the already existing exhibition. If that wasn’t enough, she also began preparations for the Paper Theatres drop-in session on the concluding day of the residency.
No34 isn’t admittedly the most typical space for an artist’s residency – Nicole herself commented how an artist might often be quite removed from the public, going on to say that the High Street actually turned out to be a source of inspiration. Of course, there were also odd occasions where the High Street became a bit of a distraction too, but Nicole was quick to point out that overall her residency was ‘really enjoyable’. The best part about sitting in the window all week turned out to be the ‘casual interactions with complete strangers that have been completely positive’, Nicole affirmed. She later mentioned a little anecdote from her first day in residency, watching a girl’s jaw drop before mouthing ‘Oh my god!’ upon seeing the drawings, which Nicole admitted was ‘really sweet because she genuinely meant it’. ‘It suddenly makes you really, really close with utter strangers’, Nicole continued, emphasising how in this case they knew relatively nothing about each other’s lives, ‘Yet we had this moment that was quite intimate and that was really nice’.
This is why the large windows at the front of the building lend themselves so well to artwork like Nicole’s; people can press their faces up against the glass without feeling too intimidated to come in. Not that we at Ideas Test are scary (we hope!) but we appreciate that it can feel daunting to walk into a building that behaves a little bit differently. All of us working at No34 while Nicole was in residency noticed the increased number of people stopping to watch the live artwork through the window. It’s because Nicole’s drawings are, much like the Paper Theatres she makes, delicately intricate. You can’t help but stop and watch, which of course a lot of people did.
“I really loved it when I could sense somebody was looking over my shoulder and I’d turn around and they’d give me this massive thumbs up.”
It is therefore no surprise that Nicole’s exhibition gained proverbial straight A’s – admiration, attention, appreciation and an attentive audience (although ironically the Saturday workshop was about building yet another audience – an audience, amusingly, built from pieces of paper.) Nicole explained very honestly about the positives to be gained from workshops like the one regularly held at No.34. ‘It connects people,’ Nicole enthused earnestly. ‘This is somewhere where they can relax and express themselves and I think that’s really important’.
There are few things as inspiring as seeing collaborative creativity and Nicole’s Paper Theatre workshop was as successful as her residency in attracting an eager and active audience. Participants were invited to decorate and populate their own mini paper theatres, using pens, pencils, feathers and whatever else took their fancy. With the help of Nicole’s theatre templates along with some character stencils helpfully constructed by Kye, who’s completing a few weeks of work experience with Ideas Test, participants could unleash their creativity and be as colourful as they liked.
We find that people who drop into No34, often come away with a renewed sense of resourcefulness and motivation. We put this thought to Nicole, asking whether her residency with us had inspired her to create any future work. ‘Oh it’s given me lots of ideas for future drawings, for ways of engaging the public,’ Nicole acknowledged firmly but added that it also served as a ‘never-ending learning curve’ as she worked to contain her ‘continually overambitious mind’!
If you want to find out more about Nicole and the fantastic work her overly ambitious mind can produce, you can visit her website. You can also read the More Than 100 Stories blog documenting her work with Sarah Butler on the Creative People and Places projects up and down the country.
You can also listen to the highlights of our interview with Nicole on Soundcloud.