In a series of interviews, we speak to the five artists immersing themselves in industry to produce brand new work for the third instalment of The National Festival of Making’s Art In Manufacturing series, alongside the manufacturing firm they’ve been paired with.
Dan Edwards is a graduate of the Chelsea College of Art and Design and has worked as a renowned picture framer, a professional that has developed his artistic interests in the preservation, presentation and perception of contemporary artworks. Edwards is in residency with The Senator Group, a design-led furniture manufacturer established in 1976 by present day chairman Colin Mustoe MBE to create places to meet, dine and work with a difference. The Accrington-based, internationally-renowned company recently made a significant investment in its state-of-the-art desk factory, from which over 300,000 desks, tables, storage systems and screens are produced annually.
Here, Dan and Gemma Vaughan, Head of Marketing at The Senator Group give answers in an Art In Manufacturing Q&A.
Dan Edwards: As an artist I work across different mediums as a way of interrogating personal and cultural anxieties. After studying art at Chelsea in the late nineties I took a long break from making art and returned to my practice about 3 years ago. In between I have worked as a fine art fabricator for Darbyshire Ltd. in London and in that capacity I was involved in helping bring one of the artist’s work to exhibition for the first year of Art in Manufacturing. Then last year I came to the festival for the weekend and was immediately drawn to the idea of being part of it personally as an artist rather than just as a fabricator.
Gemma Vaughan: The Senator Group is a British design-led manufacturer based in Accrington, Lancashire. We employ over 1,500 local people to design and make contract furniture that serves a global market. Proud supporters of our local community, The Senator Group is part of the Art In Manufacturing commissions to showcase the beauty of the materials we work with and our sustainability.
GV: That an artist can challenge traditional manufacturing methodology to create beautiful pieces.
DE: I found the whole festival incredibly exciting and to see Blackburn town centre full of people making and creating over two days was incredible. The opportunity to present work in public to an audience that may not usually interact with contemporary art, but seemed so open to experiencing it was really inspiring. Also looking at how artists were using materials and industrial techniques that were new to them seemed a really interesting way of extending the parameters of what could be made in my own practice.
DE: Art in Manufacturing is quite a different way of working for me, in that I am usually led to using processes or mediums by the ideas I want to look at and quite often then have to learn how to use them to make the work or find a manufacturer who already uses them to make the object for me. In this instance I am coming from a different direction discovering the techniques and mediums available from the manufacturer and then looking for how I can use them to create a piece.
GV: Not at The Senator Group, so we’re excited to see what Dan creates.
I think that together, we have the opportunity to make something exceptional.
GV: We’re a family run business and family runs through our ethos. We’re a large company in terms of resource and footprint, but a small one in terms of community.
DE: I’m excited by what we can achieve together as makers, thinkers and disruptors. I think that together, we have the opportunity to make something exceptional.
DE: I think the opportunity to work at a scale, which until now has not been possible, is the major opportunity. As an artist you are constrained by the limitations of your studio space and the venues in which you can exhibit. To be metaphorically handed the keys to a whole factory to use as a studio or playground, and to know the capacity of the festival, is incredibly liberating.
GV: I believe this will truly challenge our existing workforce to question everything, all the time. Something that we try to instil in our teams. Nothing is too big or too small and even what could be thought of as unachievable can be realised through creative thinking and problem solving.
GV: By the very nature of what manufacturing is and does, is art. The output is often a beautiful object of desire; the journey can just often be forgotten.
DE: For me there really isn’t really any distance between the two worlds, it is people having ideas, working on them, making them happen and then presenting them. The only difference is the purpose of the outcome. Every artist uses manufacturers or fabricators from painters buying stretchers and canvases to someone like Tracey Emin, who has used a commercial sign maker to make her neons. There is a constant crossover and I think it’s healthy for both ‘art’ and ‘manufacturing’ to take part in this kind of cross-pollination. Quite often I want things that I make to have the appearance of objects that already exist and if there is a way of using the manufacturer of that object then all the better. Equally, artists can often give a new perspective, or approach to a problem that is useful for industry. This is when collaboration is at its best.
Artists can often give a new perspective, or approach to a problem that is useful for industry. This is when collaboration is at its best.
DE: A notebook and pencil is where everything starts for me. I make notes and sketches constantly, with ideas, scraps, plans and mistakes all gathering together to see what comes out the other side. Everything else I use comes in to play in service of that idea.
GV: We would struggle without our paint workshop for all of our metal work. All other machines can be supported through people and their skills.
GV: A day in the factory sees designers sharing space alongside our administration teams as well as the skilled craftspeople producing each item of furniture. It’s a busy place, so all eyes are usually on fulfilling orders from the moment everyone gets in until it’s time to leave, but in a collaborative environment where everyone can learn something from each other, every day is punctuated by time to reflect and be creative, meetings and chance encounters that lead to new ideas.
Every day is punctuated by time to reflect and be creative, meetings and chance encounters that lead to new ideas.
DE: Studio days start with numerous cups of coffee then some time playing with ideas I have had over the previous week or so, seeing if anything has made an impression and jumps out for further investigation. Then it’s usually a case of finding a way to distract myself from thinking too directly about any of them. I find setting myself a seemingly mundane task – such as manufacturing 200 replica house bricks out of card – achieves this. I know when I am on to something when the compulsion to start making takes over from just the idea of making something.
Tell us three things you know or have recently found out about Blackburn.
DE: The Chippery has the best butter pies in the country. The Illicits, from Blackburn, are one of the best new bands in the country and are signed to Alan McGee’s Creation23 label. It turns out that an extraordinary amount of world class making, manufacturing and fabrication happens here!
Visit The Senator Group at www.thesenatorgroup.com