Artist interview with Naomi Edmondson – life survival techniques, mental health and positive vibes through guerilla street art!

Those of you who follow me on social media on my Culture Vulture Facebook will know I’m on a bit of a mental health mission (check out my Mental Health event in September!). It’s something that I’m extremely passionate about and as someone who has had significant mental health issues through-out their life, I’m determined to be an advocate, champion that there is life during and post mental health issues, celebrate creative expression as an outlet AND just taking some time out to look after number one (YOU!) every so often.

Mental Health is a topic that has been explored and tackled in many of my recent projects…. And is something that I am (alongside lots of artists) are using as a stimulus within current and future creative projects. I want to be part of the positive change and also to smash the perception of exactly WHAT mental health is and WHO “suffers” from it.

I recently worked on a brilliant festival called Make & Mend Festival; this festival focuses on and celebrates the power of craft, colour and creativity. It doesn’t just imply that being creative and engaging in creative happenings might be good for mind, body and soul – it all out, uses this as its core value to attendees. And being there on the day, doing their live social media, meant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere and absorb the festival vibe and it just filled my soul with joy. You could literally feel people’s passion, happiness and creativity over flowing through-out the festival site. Perfect and more events like this please!

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

As part of Make & Mend Festival, I had the opportunity to engage with lots of artists, makers, artisans, creatives, motivational speakers, wellbeing practitioners and everything in between. Lots of them I knew already, some only through my constant social media stalking and fan girling so it was a pleasure to meet and chat in “real life” and there were lots of new folks to meet….. it blows my mind how much talent and lushness there is in the North East and that with the greatest will in the world, you just can’t know about them all. But events like that festival are all about creative discovery and I get a real buzz from that.

An artist/creative that I’ve fan girled for some time is Naomi Edmondson. Those who know me, know I’m in love with street art – I love bold, creative designs in urban areas. I’m of the mind-set that it’s an art form that I’d like to see more of and it’s an expression of “reclaiming” space and communicating with the rest of the world. Good street art stops you in your tracks and often makes you smile. Naomi’s work makes me smile and champions positive affirmations (not in the cheesy way – I can’t DEAL with a cheesy motivational quote), but actual real shit….. stuff that sometimes our brains just need to see as a pick me up, a metaphorical and colourful high five and a reminder that when things are crap, you’ve still absolutely got this.

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Naomi Edmondson in front of one of her murals.

So of course, I was delighted when I found out, that Naomi had been commissioned to produce some pieces of work to display across Make & Mend Festival grounds to be enjoyed. In fact, I think I did a little scream and said “THE Naomi Edmondson!?” …. I love it when fate just brings things together. So of course, when the opportunity arose to interview a Make & Mend artist as Culture Vulture, I was ALLLLL over Naomi like the creepy fangirl I can be…. “hi hi hi, I love you, I follow you on Instagram and I think you’re brilliant!”.

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Before I launch into my interview with Naomi, I suggest checking out her work to get a sense of it all. It’s mint. Naomi has turned the Instagram and advertising negativity on its head… instead of a social media feed with things that will make you feel inadequate or an advert in the street, that will remind you of all the things you should be doing to be a good adult….her work, is the antithesis of this – it’s like shit hot, positivity street art that shares some basic survival techniques in life.

So you get the sense that I LOVE her work, love the positive mental health theme running through out it and I want to shout loud and proud about Naomi to you all……. We need more of it in our lives and when I have an office, I want Naomi’s work within in.

So over to Naomi…

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Hi Naomi, absolute pleasure to talk to you and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat….so tell my readers who you are?

I’m Naomi Edmondson and I’m an artist with a street art project called Survival Techniques; it aims to promote hope and optimism and bring a little light to people having a dark day.

4 years ago, after a period of feeling very low, I wrote a list to remind me what to do when I was feeling bad: things that always made me feel a bit better. They were always super simple things like ‘Talk to someone, anyone, about anything’ which came from me chatting to the guy in my local shop for a few minutes. I realised that I would leave the shop feeling much more a part of the world again.

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After finding that friends found similar ‘Survival Techniques’ worked for them, I began to think about ways of sharing the list, and after seeing a local street artist at work in East London, decided that the street would be the best, most democratic place to share them.

The first wall I painted was “Hide Less Chat More” – words from the friend I’d first shared my list of Survival Techniques with. There are now many paintings spread across the UK and Japan.

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How did it all start….tell me about your journey into the creative world?

In my early twenties I was a professional freestyle skier, but after a string of season ending injuries, I decided to move back to the UK. I had a quarter-life crisis and eventually decided to study a 1 year Art & Design foundation course in London. I’d always enjoyed Art at school, but hadn’t really considered it for work. I completely loved my first course and went on to study BA Graphic & Media Design. I started working as a graphic designer for a book publisher and have been working on a freelance, part-time basis for that same publisher up until very recently, as I simultaneously worked on building the Survival Techniques project.

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You have a signature style….I love the bold typography choices…can you tell me the inspiration of your style?

I’ve always loved typography, and the reason I studied for my degree at London College of Communication was because they had a huge letterpress studio, full of drawers and drawers of letters. In particular I like dynamic, bold typography. It took me a while to get to the Survival Techniques style as I wanted to find that balance between colourful and eye-catching, whilst also putting the message first and foremost.

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How do you come up with the phrases for your Survival Techniques work?

When I first started the project I asked my friends and family to send me their Survival Techniques in any form. I then created phrases from what they told me, or edited down their words into the size and tone that I wanted. I am always collecting phrases; whenever I hold an exhibition there is a submissions box that people can post their Survival Techniques into, and I have always had a form on my website for the same thing.

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So for those who follow you on Insta, like this creepy fan girl right here, know you’ve been in Japan super recently with your work – so me about it?

This past year I’ve been out to Japan several times and have had 2 solo exhibitions in Tokyo. The first exhibition was in summer 2018 at UltraSuperNew Gallery during an intense heatwave. I gave a talk about my work and in partnership with the gallery we hosted a charity auction of 3 pieces of work in aid of the West Japan disaster that happened whilst I was there. The exhibition led onto a commission for the gallery to paint the shutter at the entrance to the building, and it also led onto my work moving across Tokyo in autumn for another solo exhibition to Park Gallery. I also collaborated with Park Gallery to run workshops for a group of adults and children, and I painted the front of the gallery in Spring 2019; I painted Open Your Doors, which are words that a 14-year old boy posted into the submissions box at my first exhibition at UltraSuperNew.

It feels incredible to be able to make work there, and be involved in the culture in a way I would never have expected and I feel so grateful for the experience and opportunities.

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People can buy your work….we all need more of your Survival Techniques in our life. Where do you tend to sell your work – where can people get them from?

Initially for print sales it was purely through my own online shop, which I still have and sell through, but I also now sell via galleries and dedicated print shops, in particular Atom Gallery and PrintClubLondon.

Paintings tend to sell via exhibitions and occasionally Instagram.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How do you get approached for commissions?

Often commissions will come after I talk about Survival Techniques at an event; I think it’s the best way for people to understand the journey and reasoning of the project. Otherwise, having my work out on the street means that lots of people see it and then recognise other paintings. I think there is something immediately engaging about seeing work physically. To see work online or in print is always interesting and inspiring, but if people see my work in real life, out on the street somewhere, I think it is even easier to engage with.

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I find your work bold and yet quietly reflective – the colours enable the message to permeate whilst it triggers reflective thoughts about why i don’t necessarily feel that way in that moment and ignites a self determination to strive to feel that way. Was that intention?

Thank you and yes. I always try to find a balance between the colours being bright and hopeful, whilst also not shouting or being too commanding. I don’t have a scientific approach other than I always use a limited colour palette. I just work on it until it feels right, and like the colours together have the same feeling as what I want to say.

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What do you want people to feel and think when they see your work?

I hope that the messages will be gentle reminders of things you can do, or ways to look at a situation when you’re feeling low. It could be something you can do that same day or moment, or something that perhaps sticks on your mind and that you can call upon at a later date. I also hope that the messages will make people realise that everyone is struggling at different times and that they aren’t alone.

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Again through my stalking, I’ve discovered you were part of the World Book Day Teen campaign….how that that happen and how did you get involved?

I gave a talk about my work at an event in South-East London, where I have a lot of paintings. The ladies that run the studio that head up all of the design for World Book Day were there, started following my work, and a year later they got in touch to see if I’d be interested in collaborating. Reading has always been very important to me and I think World Book Day is such a brilliant event and charity, so it was a very easy decision to say yes.

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Some of your pieces have a distinctively positive feminist vibe – what does being a feminist mean to? Would you class yourself as a feminist?

I would definitely class myself as a feminist because I want to be treated equally to men. The inner levels of ourselves that the patriarchy reaches can be terrifying to discover sometimes. I think there can be no shortage of voices that give strength to women.

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Last year, you placed pieces “I am Here” – “I am a Woman” around London….. what did you want to achieve from that project?

I wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day in a way that felt relevant to my work and how I feel. I took those two paintings to locations around London that were or are key to women’s history and rights, for example meeting places for the suffragettes. I wrote the words I Am A Women and I Am Here as a way of unapologetically celebrating and claiming the place of those women, and of my own space in the city today.

You painted several commissions for Make & Mend Festival this year – I had the privilege of seeing them on site during the festival and they were just perfect additions. For those who didn’t attend, can you tell them a bit about your commissions.

I’ve created 5 paintings on wooden boards that were spread around the festival site. The words are Survival Techniques that relate directly to the ethos and vibe of Make & Mend.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How did you come to get involved in this year’s festival?

Rachel, one of the organisers of the festival, got in touch about a collaboration and working together. I could immediately see so much common ground in what we were both doing and it was the perfect event for me to get involved with.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Make & Mend Festival is all about giving yourself space to be creative and investing into your mental health through the power of craft and well-being focused activities – that seems to blend and connect well with your ethos at Survival Techniques. Why do you think creative opportunities and events are important for positive mental health?

I think we all need to be creative in one way or another. Finding that way is difficult nowadays as a lot of people don’t have that opportunity in their jobs. To be making things seems to be so important to what it means to be human. I run workshops where people can create their own Survival Techniques artwork and every time people are amazed at how relaxing it is to sit down and be creating something. One friend helping me to paint a mural and she said she nearly reached nirvana.

To go to an event that is focused on creativity is such a wonderful and important thing that you can do for yourself, and the benefits last way beyond the event itself.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

How does your practice and painting these positive affirmations influence your own mental health?

Painting each phrase onto a wall cements it into my mind and means it really stays with me. I still sometimes forget things, and when I think a little more in a situation and remember a certain painting I’ve done, for example ‘You Can Rest’; it helps me to stop dodging doing the good thing for myself, and just do it.

The actual physical act of painting is so calming and I feel lucky to be able to do it often.

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I’m an avid champion of the Northern Arts scene and I ask all artists from the South this question : Do you think there is a difference between the North & South Art scene?

I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about the North Art scene. I live in London, and up until recently all of my work has been based there, growing on the exposure and contacts I have in my local area until eventually I’m now creating work all across the city. I was so delighted to make work that was going to be outside of London as this is something I’ve always wanted to do.

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Make & Mend Festival 2019 – photo: Clare Bowes

Do you come up North much?

Not as much as I’d like to. I really want to see the Keith Haring exhibition at Tate Liverpool, so hope to make a trip there soon. I spent New Year in the Lake District which was even more beautiful than I’d imagined. My brother and his family live in Scotland so I will visit them a couple of times a year, but I don’t currently have many other connections in the north at the moment.

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Well Naomi my dear, the North East is calling out for you to properly visit and if you need a tour guide….this gal is the one to ask!

Naomi’s work really is fantastic and I suggest that you follow her on Insta for some colour and positivity in your life!

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Zara Worth – Online/Offline: Art, Academia & Instagram

Ok I admit it – I’ve recently lost my blogging mojo and it’s been a while since I’ve posted – my head has been full of projects and events…..well after some time out away – I’m back and I’ve lined up some cracking posts and some brilliant interviews with artists.

So first up is an interview with the wonderful Zara Worth. Zara has been an artist on my radar for a while – someone who has kept popping up in either my news feed or connected to various projects. So I was delighted when she emailed me about a year ago – introducing herself and her projects. It’s so lovely to have artists actually reach out and tell me about their work (So why not do the same!?)….

I became really interested in the fact she is a post graduate student – as someone who has always been in love with academia, research and what I’d like to call intellectual adventuring – I’m extremely hungry for knowledge and challenging it. I’ve always been interested in an artist/creative, something we assume is inherently practical actually engaging in PhD research. And there are lots of artists and performers out there doing just that – I really enjoy the process of reading their research/papers whilst simultaneously enjoying their pieces of work or performances. For me it adds often an additional socio-dynamic or element of political/self-expression.

Zara explores many themes in her work – but the ones I’m currently captivated by; living your life both off line and online and the effect that has on your mental health and self-identity. As an introvert who has made a living building a brand and identity online – I find it an interesting topic especially when I consider the impact of living my life as The Culture Vulture visibly and how that sits at odds with the fact I’m actually a very private person and one, that whilst I knows a lot of people – I only have a certain amount of really meaningful friendships. Secondly, how people perceive me after getting to know me online – their construction of who I am, my personality, how I will interact in “real” life – the fact via social media we build up snap shots of people via what their shareable content and Instagram feed. Which leads onto questions about mental health – especially in the North East where there have been several recent suicides of people many would consider “influencers” on social media and who presented a very happy, exciting and often successful life…..img-0796_orig

Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Zara has recently ran a workshop with discussion at Vane in which she invited participants to explore social media and self-identity…. Whilst I couldn’t attend (booo to working every weekend over the Summer and missing some ace events!) – I heard some fantastic things and I’m delighted that she’s running another version as part of the Gateshead Live programme in October for young people and adults alike. Attendees will use collage as the medium to patch together social media identities – a bit like an Instagram feed. So whilst it’s an opportunity to explore the creation of social media themes, styles, visuals and making them as impactful and engaging as possible – it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how social media imagery prompts us to feel, trigger us to behave and influences our mind set.

You can find out more about the upcoming workshop by following the link

So I’ve told you why I’m super interested in Zara and her work …. But now it’s time to hear from Zara herself. So Culture Vultures…. Who is Zara Worth when she’s both online and offline?

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Zara Worth

Hi Zara – thank you for agreeing to be my blog subject! I first discovered your work when I was researching Northern artists about a year ago – so it’s so brilliant to finally connect – we have so many mutual creative interests. Can you tell my readers about your work?

Lovely to be discovered! My work at this moment feels to be a type of contemporary religious art; I’ve been reflecting a lot on what connects my current practice with the work I’ve made in the past and I’ve realised I am drawn towards belief systems and ideological communities.

In terms of how I make work, currently I’m exploring developing a practice which mirrors our current condition of living life simultaneously on- and off-line: so nearly all of the works I’ve been making since 2016 have an online element – usually on Instagram on the @zara_worth account – and also have an offline aspect – so drawing, or perhaps an object. I’ve also started using the same title for works with connected on- and off-line elements, to further conflate this relationship between them.

Instagram has been a key source of interest since 2014; and its prevalence as a theme within my work has led my practice to be described as ‘swipe-specific’: a term which I also really align with.

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‘The Artist’s Presence’ (Zara Worth – 2018) [Chairs and AR app] made with kind support from Ian Truelove and Field Design

Swipe-specific is something I really align with too – everything is so in the moment, instantly discovereable but equally immediately forgettable….

Everyone has a really interesting story of how they got involved in the arts….so tell me about your journey?

I suppose my journey is fairly typical; being an artist always felt inevitable, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to pursue it. One thing I always find interesting, particularly at this stage in my life, is how hard people find understanding that you identify as something – an artist – which isn’t necessarily your primary or only source of income. I used to think that I would be satisfied with just helping other people with their creative projects – working in film or for other artists – I very quickly realised that I was miserable if I wasn’t making my own work.

The origins of my interest in belief systems is perhaps more interesting than my story as an artist so far. Whilst puzzling over why I have these aesthetic preferences starting my PhD it dawned upon me the impact that my Granny’s faith had on me. At this point it is important to note that my Granny seemingly inexplicably became a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s also worth noting that my family is in no way Russian and to this day I have no idea why this was the particular strand of Christianity that she was drawn to.

Living in Congleton, Cheshire, funnily enough there wasn’t anywhere specifically Russian Orthodox to worship, so being pragmatic she bought a large shed from B&Q and started a Russian Orthodox church in her back garden, complete with papier-mâché onion dome (later replaced with a fiberglass one when the first one melted in the rain). So growing up, when I went to Granny’s house I was surrounded by religious icons, and I used to love trotting down to the back of the garden and lighting candles and incense in the church. She died when I was 17 and I never properly spoke to her about her faith, and I suppose a lot of my work is trying to make sense of its significance.

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‘QR Codes’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [QR codes on rice paper]

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‘Void Fill’ (Zara Worth/Vane 2018) [void fill strip curtain]

I have aspirations of one day returning into academia and education at some point – I’d certainly like to do a postgraduate in 2019 – something around people and behaviour and also a coaching qualification  – I know you’re doing your PhD…… how does that compliment or effect your arts practice?

Someone recently asked me if starting a PhD had caused me to hate my art practice and that completely horrified me. I’m just starting my third year of a part-time PhD (six years in total) and my experience so far has been brilliant; studying at Leeds Beckett University has already opened up so many doors and I’ve worked in collaboration with some really fantastic academics, so it has been a very productive time already. My practice is driven by ideas, so I’m not forcing an academic framework on my practice.

I would also say to anyone thinking about doing a PhD to try to make sure you work well with your Director of Studies and your Supervisor(s); I already knew my Director of Studies, Professor Simon Morris and really landed on my feet with my Supervisor, Dr Jill Gibbon, but I’m aware of other people at other institutions who do not have great relationships with theirs and it’s been hell for them.

I’ve really been enjoying studying part-time; I was a full-time Masters student when I was at Goldsmiths and the whole thing felt like a mad sprint and I don’t feel I really had time to get the most out of the experience. I feel very fortunate to have received a part-time studentship as it’s allowed me to pursue other experiences alongside study, which would have been inconceivable if I was a full-time student, plus it supports the development of a sustainable practice in the long run – as the reality is I am unlikely to have the luxury of practising art full-time in the immediate future.

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 ‘Quotations I, III, II’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2018) [23.5 carat gold leaf on paper]

I agree with that – becoming sustainable in the creative and cultural sector is a strategic process – very similar to building a business. Back to your work – what mediums do you use?

The medium is the message. I like my work to be loaded, so the materials should be working ideologically as well as be visually interesting. As I’ve mentioned, my recent works have on- and off-line lives, the online aspects have been predominantly performance to video for Instagram, and Instagram collages; though recently I created a piece involving Augmented Reality.

As for the off-line aspects of the work, mediums include celery; void fill (packing peanuts); and 23.5 carat gold, all chosen for the significance that they carry.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [celery and kitchen knife on paper]

We are going into the latter part of the year – it’s insane how quickly this year has gone by. Consequently, this question seems crazily appropriate – what’s been your highlight of 2018 so far?

Opening my first solo-exhibition, ‘FEED’, at Vane, this August. The Directors at Vane, Chirs Yeats and Paul Stone, have been incredibly supportive and I’ve had such an amazing response from visitors and everyone who has participated in the events running alongside; it’s been quite overwhelming. In the same month I also installed Matty Bovan’s exhibition for the London Design Biennale – I was Project Manager and it has been brilliant to be a part of; quite a crazy summer.

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‘A drawing made by cutting up my body weight in celery’ (Zara Worth/Vane – 2016-17) [performance to video for Instagram]

Going forward into 2019 – what do you have planned?

I’m joining The Newbridge Project’s Collective Studio programme, which is a nine-month studio residency and development programme for emerging artists, so by 2019 I’ll be immersed in the programme.

I’m in the early stages of planning an exhibition with Carol Sommer looking particularly at the use of language on Instagram, and in early 2019, if not sooner, the issue of The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, which I’ve been guest-editing, should be published! I’m also wanting to focus on moving my writing forward with my PhD, up until now, everything has been very practice-led; as a practice-led PhD should be, but I’m really looking forward to spending some time digging down into the work I’ve been making.

You seem to have connections with mental health with projects and are passionate about the project area (as am I!) – can you tell me a bit more?

I work part-time at Gateshead College and was fortunate enough to receive a Level 1 qualification in Mental Health Awareness through an ESF course provided by the College. It really drew my attention to the importance of caring for our mental health and I started drafting ideas for a mindfulness workshop with input from a friend who is a professional art therapist.

During the collage workshop, ‘DisCONTENTed Dining’, which I ran at Vane to coincide with my exhibition, we were making collages in reference to social media, and something which came up was how much pressure people feel under after looking at social media, but how calming it was just taking time to participate in a creative activity. I’ll be running a similar workshop very soon in Gateshead and in early 2019 will deliver ‘Still Life, Still Mind’: a mindfulness drawing workshop designed to encourage positive mental health using creative drawing exercises which participants can replicate at home. My research does make me concerned about the negative impact social media has on our mental health, so I hope that these activities and exhibitions offer some small ways to resist against that and also help us reflect on our own behaviours when we are online.

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Screenshot of ‘Economics of the Kitchen (an A to Z)’ appearing in Instagram feed (Zara Worth – 2018) [performance to video for Instagram]

Well thank you Zara and good luck with your Newbridge residency – excited to see how that pans out! Extremely excited to see more of Zara’s work and how the mental health and social media element further entertwine and develop.

I am beginning to work on the very beginnings of a mental health event for 2019 for freelancers, self-employed and creatives and I sense some real synergy here! If you’d like to meet Zara – as she mentioned, she’s running another social media workshop called “Who am I, when I’m online?” in Gateshead….. you’ll have the opportunity to explore Instagram as a channel, use collage techniques to consider how we present ourselves online and think/reflect on the difference between online and offline identities…. So come along and do something creative on 6th October and join what is sure to be some really interesting discussion!