Interview with Kevin Hunt, Education Artist-in-Residence

Posted on 15 December 2014 by Liverpool Biennial

Sunday Art School: Fantastical Objects, 2014. Photograph by Pete Carr

Sunday Art School: Fantastical Objects, 2014. Photograph by Pete Carr

For Liverpool Biennial 2014, Liverpool-based artist Kevin Hunt was commissioned as Education Artist-in-Residence. Throughout the festival, Kevin worked closely with our Education team to develop artworks and projects that engage people and places in making and thinking about art, as well as working on his own research informing his artistic practice. We talked with Kevin about the importance of artist-led activity in Liverpool and what it was like working with families (and magicians) to create new artworks. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’ve been practicing as an artist in Liverpool since 2005 when I graduated and moved back home. Initially, I never intended to stick around, but the city is a seductive one for those working in the arts and cultural sector. I have studio at The Royal Standard, which is an artist-led gallery, studio and social workspace where I was also previously a Director of the organisation between 2007-2011. Typically I guess I make sculpture out of found objects but am also involved in various aspects of artist-led activity, here in Liverpool and further afield in the rest of the UK, which I’m really passionate about.

As an artist based in Liverpool, how did it feel to be invited to be part of Liverpool Biennial 2014?

Great! The opportunity though relates to a wider question here in Liverpool about the city’s framework of institutions and public galleries. The reality of the situation here is that the majority of exhibitions and other output that public galleries generate (and we have a lot of public galleries in the city) supports artists at a certain point in their career and mostly from outside the city. Most of the artists living and working in Liverpool operate below that framework level if you like, so that activity is the opposite in many ways to what artists that situate themselves in the city are doing. For me, one of the greatest things about being invited to be part of Liverpool Biennial was that it broke down that hierarchy to a degree and showed that such opportunities and support can (and should) be provided for those that live here.

"The city is a seductive one for those working in the arts and cultural sector"

Kevin Hunt, Are You Seeing This, 2013.

Can you explain the thinking behind this year’s education and family programme?

My residency over the course of Liverpool Biennial 2014 was very fluid and evolved in many ways as it happened, through conversation with various members of the programme team, specifically Education Curator Polly Brannan. The role was heavily research-based, in terms of pursuing certain ideas and aspects of my practice and how they connected to ideas or interests within the Biennial’s education programme. The residency was really about me engaging with different groups of people and considering different sites or locations for thinking about and producing art, which manifested itself in different ways; the most tangible being the Sunday Art School programme.

What have you gained from your experience as Artist-in-Residence, and how has being part of the Biennial influenced your practice?

I’m now at a point where I’m able to stop and think about what has happened over the last few months, which have been quite hectic! Some of the decisions I made as part of the residency were things I wouldn’t have necessarily pursued without the opportunity; even though they were all things I was already interested in, the residency was the stimulus to actually work with groups of people I had in mind, such as magicians. The best thing about it was the creation of a situation where I could explore things outside of my comfort zone, which is always a good, if challenging thing!

"I’m interested in how magic tricks are formed and performed, how the repeated use of a set of objects can do something that maybe seems impossible"

My main interests have always been sculptural until now; working with things you may find all around you that are commonplace or even arbitrary, and somehow manipulating these things to be something more beautiful or important or complicated. Over the last year or so I have been thinking about involving other people in that process, to imbue these objects with something more. This whole process has felt a bit like climbing to the top of a cliff, and working with Liverpool Biennial felt like being flung off that cliff! Now I have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move on and take my practice forward - I’m keen for the sculpture I make to have more resonance than just the aesthetics of the objects themselves and I think that could happen through similar processes to those I have employed during the residency.

A GRANDE FINALE - Live performance with a magician and audience, within an installation of sculptures and screen printed objects, 2014. Photograph by Pete Carr

Amongst others, you worked with magicians during the residency – tell us more about the thinking behind this.

Yeah magicians, I love magicians! So, I guess I’ve been interested in magic for a long time, but it’s a tricky subject for lots of reasons - mostly the kind of naff or tacky connotations that come with what they do, or how they’re perceived by modern mainstream media, as a comedic thing. I’m much more interested in how magic tricks are formed and performed, how the repeated use of a set of objects can do something that maybe seems impossible, and the bigger, more philosophical questions around their practice as I think some of those questions resonate with sculpture. They’re also pretty unusual and amazing people so it was really great to get to know and work with them on both the research and production of a couple of Sunday Art Schools and A GRAND FINALE.

What was it like being asked to dream up the closing event for Liverpool Biennial 2014?

It was kinda nerve-wracking really! A GRAND FINALE was the culmination of a whole load of research and different things that had happened over the course of the festival as well as a chance to try framing my work in quite a different way; as a performance. Working really closely with Simon South, a brilliantly skilled sleight of hand magician, we devised a two-part scenario that was at once an installation of sculptural works, an environment and a happening if you like, divided into two acts. At first Simon was hidden in the crowd, only gradually revealing himself, and this alongside a predetermined set of factors including everybody drinking from very specific cups to being handed a kind of abstract hand printed programme that only hinted at what was going on, meant that everybody there became part of the work.

A GRAND FINALE, The Old Blind School 2014. Photograph by Pete Carr

I’d been using a space within The Old Blind School as a studio on and off for a few months which was this beautiful dilapidated peach and lilac room with crumbling paintwork, curved walls and mismatched architectural features. Earlier in the residency I’d ‘adapted’ this room in a way, installing a set of discreet rings, fixings and holes into the ceiling, walls and floor in order to rig the room for further evolving sculptural activity to happen over the following months, working with a variety of people. A GRAND FINALE was the final chance to use that adapted space, although some of the fittings have remained in the room after we’ve had to leave the building, and I like how they somehow mark the history of what has happened in there.

Have you worked with children or families before, and what was the best part about working on a series of Sunday Art Schools with the team?

I have worked for a long time in educational settings; previously with Liverpool Biennial, but also regularly in learning departments at Tate Liverpool and Manchester Art Gallery. Often your position as an artist can be compromised by the requirements of that kind of gallery situation and the two things don’t always correlate. With this residency, and with the Biennial’s ethos on learning as a whole, the idea is that these two aims - of wanting to educate young people and developing artistic practice - become more symbiotic. The important thing about Sunday Art School is how it is positioned within the Biennial’s programme; there is no hierarchy between what happens during one of these sessions and what is produced by an artist exhibiting in the festival.

"My Sunday Art Schools were a challenging thing for families, allowing them to work outside their comfort zone and discover new things together"

Although in many ways Sunday Art School exists in the guise of a workshop, families are really invited for a period of a few hours to do something more with an artist, by producing an artwork or some kind of research for that artist during that time. For me, it was interesting to be able to pursue avenues of personal research which included testing out ideas and posing questions for each of the sessions such as ‘Can objects defy gravity?’ which would be explored during those hours through shared activity. Some were really successful and other ideas didn’t work so well, but each Sunday Art School worked as a much bigger piece of research…and they were really fun too!

Sunday Art School: Fantastical Objects at Camp and Furnace, 2014. Photograph by Pete Carr.

Do you feel it made a difference leading a whole series of sessions rather than just one?

Definitely. Families would come again and again, and it was nice that they were able to build trust in a process where what happens is not always something they’d expect. Often a kind of ‘workshop’ scenario can be a masquerade for entertaining or occupying children and that is really not very useful or productive, particularly for the children who attend.

I hope that my Sunday Art Schools were a challenging thing for families, allowing them to work outside their comfort zone and discover new things together. For many of the sessions, we didn’t know what the outcome would be exactly, and we were putting in place a framework or situation to learn something new but with no set desired outcome, which I really thought was an important thing. For example, by learning a series of skills which I could teach to the Biennial team and those who came along to Sunday Art School (including magic knots from magicians and rope work techniques from merchant seafarers), something unique would happen which we couldn’t fully foresee, therefore allowing the sessions to operate as a way of generating further research.

Finally, why should families keep coming to Sunday Art School?

It’s interesting, because some of the people who come regularly are very eager about the format of Sunday Art School, and know that there is this ambiguity and element of freeness in what can happen. Families seem to really relish in that in a city where this type of ‘drop-in workshop’ is usually very standardised. That openness is something people really seem to enjoy and want to engage with.

Kevin Hunt after Sunday Art School: Thinking in Colours at The Old Blind School, 2014. Photograph by Pete Carr

Sunday Art School will be back in Spring 2015, with an exciting programme of sessions for the whole family led by artists. Read our interview with Curator Polly Brannan to find out more about Liverpool Biennial's education programme.