Hidden Presence, 2013 - 2016
Artist led participatory project, in partnership with Chepstow Museum, the University of the West of England and Ffotogallery, taking as a starting point the story of Nathaniel Wells.
Nathaniel Wells was the son of a slave owner and enslaved woman, who through an extraordinary series of events progressed from the sugar plantations of the West Indies to a position of high social standing and wealth in 19th Century Wales. Taking his life as inspiration, artist Eva Sajovic has led a project which creatively challenges the notion that forced labour and the global exploitation of people is confined to our history rather than something that continues to effect everyday life in Wales.
The project worked with participants living in South East Wales using visual media, interactive technologies, photography, video, sound, drawing and archive research, as a means to promote understanding about how history and slavery has built the landscape around them, and shaped the society they recognise. The project also encouraged young adults who are part of Barnardo’s Seraf Service to explore their own experiences ad ideas surrounding exploitation, including sexual exploitation, through writing and image making. It fostered thought around the use of photography and film in social media, in terms of ownership, vulnerability and safety.
Artwork produced is presented as a virtual environment and incorporates a series of learning resources.
It has been exhibited as part of Diffusion (Cardiff 2015) and at the Chepstow Museum (2016).
The Hidden Presence blog followed the project, documenting the process and displaying snippets of the work on an ongoing basis. This provided a platform for the students to view their and the work of others and a sense of ownership of the project. (Ffotogallery Team, 2015)
I approached the Hidden Presence brief by considering students and community members as participants, collaborators and co-creators, and the work being focused as much on the process as on the final object. The work was grounded in an exploration of place, history and social issues surrounding the Nathaniel Wells story.
This method of working throws up issues around conventional modes of the production of art and our relationship to the aesthetic. Although form remains crucial for communicating meaning, experience is not only linked to visuality and is difficult to convey through either artwork or documentation of the process. Through the work presented within the exhibition and the Hidden Presence website I have tried to reveal something of this process, and the level of commitment and aspiration of the young people.
In terms of the Hidden Presence project this meant that the students were not engaged in a didactic relationship with the artist, but were autonomous learners, interacting with the sensory data. I prepared a skeletal structure that the participants filled through an active process; building on what they already knew, who they were, constructing knowledge for themselves. My role was as initiator, provoking a discussion, then relinquishing control for the participation of the young people, before picking up the strings again and completing the work.
(Eva Sajovic, 2015)