Statements in Semaphore is an artist led project by Susan Merrick. Using Socially engaged practice alongside performance, live actions, film and installations Susan creates spaces for further dialogue and research around hidden voices. (2017-2018 had a specific focus on women as this is where Susan’s practice often resides).
During 2019 the project will be in a research and development phase, with the aim of developing the project in Aldershot and the Borough of Rushmoor, Hampshire (where the Artist lives). Susan will be spending the year developing ideas around how the project can bring local artists and local organisations together in a meaningful way that encourages strong artistic practice and potential social change. (For updates check the blog posts on the homepage!)
So why the title ‘Statements in Semaphore’?
STATEMENTS – Susan wants to create dialogue and further research around feminism, language and power, specifically how language is used to create social control.
SEMAPHORE – Semaphore is a form of telegraph using arm or flag signals to communicate messages across long distances. Each signal represents a letter of the roman alphabet or a number and allows for full words to be signaled. See here for more about Semaphore. The use of semaphore in this project relates to both the literal use of Semaphore signals that the artist has used in the project, but also to reference the wider idea of visual communication. Susan is a qualified sign language interpreter and as such frequently finds herself using visual communication methods in her practice. These have become a very visual whilst obscure (and sometimes absurd) way to consider issues of control, silence and censorship. Using visual communication along with live art and public interventions creates visible ways to disrupt.
Over the past couple of years Susan’s practice has led her to creating spaces for dialogue, for example facilitating workshops, talks and discussion groups with women’s rights organisations and Women supported by these organisations. Using this socially engaged research as an instigator to her practice, she creates pieces of work that may disrupt, intervene, provide commentary to or activate in some way. In turn these actions or pieces of work can be used (online, in public, in exhibitions, in talks) to form wider discussions around language and power, and can be fed back into the campaigns, organisations or academic research.
During 2016 she was part of a group of Artists from UCA Farnham who worked with the National Archives. The creative residency responded to documents, images and articles within the archives labeled under the heading Mental Health. Susan’s work focused on reports and letters about suffragette prisoners and the lack of the women’s own voices in all the documents.
In 2017 Susan gained funding from Arts Council England to be FiLiA Artist in residence. Through this role she developed the project Statements in Semaphore, facilitating creative workshops for women, collaborating between women in her local communities and artists, and developing her art practice to respond to this.
Going forward Statements in Semaphore will continue to be an exploration of how socially engaged research and an art practice that responds to it can be a cyclical and meaningful approach to advancing research development, organisational campaigns and arts involvement in these.
‘My hope is that this project will start conversations between people in my local communities, as well as with academics, artists and activists. It has the potential to provide an opportunity for direct links between my communities and the Art world. Because it is not just about creating this work, it is about access, for women into Art and the contemporary social issues that are often confronted by Art, and for access to the Art world into the lives of women and women’s experiences.
Through both the socially engaged work that I will continue to develop and my reactive art practice I will be meeting with and working with varied publics as well as artists. Through this I hope to acknowledge and break down a little the frequent barriers between local communities and the Art events that go on within them. I also want to start this residency as I intend to go on, by bringing together women from the local communities that I live and work in, together with Art and conversation. In the long term I want to consider how socially engaged practice and dialogue along with a reactive art practice can effectively further research in a wide range of social issues.’ Susan Merrick 2017