bright-+/well – Kate Kennington-Steer is Artist in Residence with New Ashgate Gallery

Aug 31, 2023 | Commission, New Ashgate 2023

This year, we were thrilled to announce Kate Kennington-Steer as the Artist in Residence for our partner commission with New Ashgate Gallery.  In her first blog post, Kate introduces us to her project, titled ‘bright-+/well’, and talks about her personal connection to the Brightwell Yard commercial development as well as the artistic techniques she will be exploring as part of her practice. 

It constantly amazes me how the imagination works. I go to look at a building site, end up seeing a crack in a wall, and come away with a whole history: I see how the land runs down to the water; I see how generations built up to this line, here they had hop fields, here out-houses; I listen to where a name seeps through from documentary sources – Lowndnes and Paget – owners of this fine Georgian house, and hear birdsong from Copper Beech and Blue Cedar trees; and I fall across a year from my past, reliving how the hopes and dreams of a younger self were bound up in this place.

I have been fortunate enough to receive a bursary from DAiSY to spend time exploring some of these threads in an open studio at the New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham this summer. I am using the BrightWells Yard development in Farnham as my focus, experimenting with ways I can mesh painting, printing, photography and poetry together into one image.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens

Why the BrightWells Yard development?

Firstly, I am fascinated by history, and particularly by layers of history, how socially, culturally, economically, physically, emotionally, spiritually, we imprint ourselves on a particular place, and are affected by the place in its turn. Secondly, I am interested in ideas of sustainable regeneration, and it seemed like a good opportunity to watch a site being constructed so near to the centre of Farnham. Thirdly, it is a very contentious development and I wanted to include a community contribution to my project, and pretty much everybody who lives or works in Farnham has an opinion about BrightWells Yard. Lastly, I have an emotional connection to the site. In 1998 I was the Education Director at the Redgrave Theatre, and I was made redundant when the theatre closed so commercial redevlopment could take place. My office was in the upstairs of the Grade II listed Georgian house called ‘BrightWell’, which is at the heart of the regeneration area. And then nothing happened. The site sat there, rotting, for the next twenty years. Building BrightWells Yard finally began in April 2019, and is still unfinished.

Until I began prepartory work in July, I had no idea I still felt so angry about the waste of resources those twenty years represent. When I was made redundant, I tried to partner with other local arts organisations and South East Arts, to make theatre spaces into a regional centre for youth creativity, but the voices demanding a commercial redevlopment were too strong to allow the idea to get off the ground. I am a passionate believer that creativity, creative education and creative access is key to unleashing the next generation as the pioneers, inventors and entreprenueus we need if we are to survive a global climate crisis, and if we are to avoid a whole generation being disaffected by food and tech poverty, or depression, or any of the other systemic social ills that are emerging as factors which prevent the wellbeing of young and old alike.

Redundancy also brought with it the beginnings of a physical and mental breakdown, which by 2003 saw me bedbound and needing a wheelchair to leave the house. So this project, which I am calling ‘bright-+/well’ is allowing me to talk to all sorts of people in Farnham, to hear their stories not only about they regard their historic town and about how the new BrightWells Yard will affect them, but also to talk about wellbeing, and brightness, about emotional, physical and mental health, and how creativity might help express those stories of the past as well as the hopes for the future. And I point to my photos and my painting and my prints and my poetry, showing them how I am trying to ‘stay with’ that painful crack in the wall, because I know that is the way healing lies, and possibility, hopefully, not just for me.