Creative Talks from Mark Lyken, John Walter and Supermundane!

I was lucky enough to make to some really interesting talks last week hosted by Grampian Hospitals Arts Trust, Art Pints and HAAN Design Market. First up we heard from zoologist & researcher Paul Thomson who's worked extensively up in the Cromarty Firth for a number of years. Mark Lyken and Emma Dove were selected to work in collaboration with Paul with Mark working on a new sound piece which would form the soundtrack for a stunning film 'The Terrestrial Sea' created by Emma. I was interested to hear from Mark as I know him more for his abstract graffiti work, I think I might even have bought some paint from his old graff shop in Dundee so how did he transition from painting on the streets to recording ambient sounds at the bottom of the Cromarty?

Well simply put the opportunity came up to work in the area thanks to Aberdeen University and the pair set off and spent 6 months getting to know the area and the people who live there. Sound has always been a part of Marks practice but this project marked a shift away from his previous work and helped him shift his thinking from that of composer with traditional notes to more of a intuitive, drone based composer. Having the on hand knowledge of experts like Paul also feed into the project and how the pair would think about the Cromarty and the magical things that happen there. Indeed once the film started I found myself mesmerised by shots of a giant anchor chain, similar to the ones you'll see at Aberdeen harbour and the bare walls of the preformed concrete legs which hold up the super structure rigs that sit in the Firth. Mark spoke about how his graffiti background meant he was good at getting into places he's not allowed but this time the results we're stunning video shots by Emma.

Mark currently has a collaborative show on at the Suttie Art Space with local ceramics maker Kevin Andrew Morris, a show which combines old analogue recording formats with traditional ceramics. The pair also worked with Kevins dads extensive journals written during his field recording days, a slightly out dated form of information gathering where men in wooly jumpers would set off to remote places and set up camp in small portable huts to record scientific data. Its probably not that out dated, in fact it sounds like a good holiday to me, I bet they don't get a wifi signal up on those hills. Technology played a part for all involved from the old school tape decks on the walls to the modern tracking chips that Pauls team use to monitor the movements of seals and sea birds, working in such different fields certainly threw up a lot of cross overs. It was fantastic to hear from all the speakers about their work and what they got from this on going project, I've always believed that collaboration is key and this is a case in point.

Next up we had Art Pints with guest speaker London based artist John Walter. I've been lucky enough to hear John speak at Grays and also helped for a day on his Hattiesburg chess set which formed a part of the 'Play Park' (check it out here) event curated by Smart. Johhn creates these quite full on paintings and digital works which range from giant sketch books to entire rooms filled with his own wall paper designs, mini sculptures and other ephemera, occasionally presided over by an alien or a costumed figure serving up other worldly cocktails (its John in disguise!). His most recent projects have seen him explore the impact of the HIV virus and the ever changing science behind its treatment. 

But how did he get from watching 70 hours of the tv show Dallas to responding to one of the biggest medical events of the 20th century? We'll as John explained his work has evolved through a lot of experimentation and artistic intuition. Testing out new ideas, being unafraid to embrace fun and play and not restricting his ideas. He spoke of making 20 paintings in the hope that 1 will be amazing while the others can simply be ok. Constantly working towards the next project and looking for the collaborations that can take him to the next point, not necessarily a step up but certainly working with people who inspire and do something different to himself. Also looking back at older work and sketch books and re exploring ideas can be useful. I have to say whenever I've been lucky enough to catch up with John he's been able to give me advice or to distill whatever ideas have been swirling around in my head, he's an incredibly intelligent guy so be sure to pick his brain at the DCA in Dundee next year!

The final talk came from design and mural supremo Supermundane. Super aka Rob Lowe (not that one) is a designer based in London who appears to have done just about everything a designer would want to and then some. Working for big magazines, creating an in vogue illustration styles and now designing and painting colourful murals, Rob seems to be at a good point in his 20 plus year career but what's brought him to this point? Apart from living in London of course. Certainly being in the capital opened Rob up to more opportunities but his influences came from the same pool as most 80's kids but as he spoke of his parents home and the local fun fair it became clear that place plays a part. And I mean that in the sense of seeing what's around you, taking in the details and appreciating them. 

The current show at Seventeen 'Bonnie Beasts' is the first time in a while I've seen young designers recognise something special about Aberdeen and use it to inform their work just as the colours and bombast of the funfair does for Rob. He also spoke about taking on new challenges and roles within different companies, self initiating projects and generally going against the grain of what was happening in the print industry. For his current body of work it evolved after taking one project to its limit, stepping back and examining one aspect of it which finds him some 8 years later still exploring the concepts and ideas of this loose strand. Robs work is quirky and colourful but it also speaks its own visual language which appears simple but is actually incredibly deep. The commission for the Leeds train station for has the word Leeds in it when viewed from either side, creating new views of the same old building depending on where the viewer looks at it from. Also Rob knows how to have a laugh, often serenading us with little songs during his talk which provided some relief from the sensory overload of his work. He also left little flyers for each of us on our seats, 'Be Kind'.

After seeing all the talks its clear the idea of seeing a place, a project or a piece of art from a new perspective is important. I've always advocated that attending these artist lectures will help and inform your own practice, regardless of your topic or genre or even field of study. Scientist, graffiti writers, maximalists and designers all see the world from a different vantage and that's more important than ever I think in a place like Aberdeen. You have to break out of your own mind set or field of view to be able to grow and sometimes that means looking to the horizon but sometimes it means looking at whats in front of you. Even today seeing the slides from the conference being held about exploring how Aberdeen can become 'cool' for residents and students, sponsored by Shell, £75 a head and with guests speakers from First Transport, it looked and sounded like everything that is uncool and actually kinda kills a creative city. And Aberdeen is a creative city, its come on leaps and bounds in the last 10 years but there's still a lot to do around instilling the value of creativity, art and design into everyday life. But now I've had a pop at them I'd better have a go at coming up with something better. Watch this space!

Massive thanks to all the artists and creative for their time and sharing and also to those behind the scenes for pulling these events together. You all help make Super Aberdream! 

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