Residency & Mentoring: Kate Kennington-Steer Reflects on her 2023 Commission

Apr 11, 2024 | Commission, New Ashgate 2023

Image credit: Dawn Cozens

Kate Kennington-Steer reflects on her time as commissioned artist in residence at New Ashgate Gallery, and the exceptional mentoring she has with Caroline Jackman afterwards, all as part of her 2023 DAiSY commission.

Kate is our current Featured Artist as part of our DAiSY~Chain Disabled Artist Network. Follow the DAiSY~Chain Instagram account to find out more about Kate’s practice, see her at work behind the scenes and find out how you might be able to work together!

This project is part of the Here We Are programme, made possible thanks to funding from Arts Council England.

Creativity is not an optional extra for me; I don’t just do ‘a bit of art’ in my ‘spare’ time – creativity is key to my emotional, mental and spiritual health. It is my bedrock at all times and in all seasons, no matter how ill or well my physical body may or may not be. So receiving a bursary from DAiSY in 2023 to become an artist in residence at the New Ashgate Gallery, Farnham and to make an open studio there during August and September, was amazing for countless reasons.

One aspect of the bursary became particularly crucial and challenging: because I was being given licence to focus on developing my artistic practice. The work I created in the open studio really was all about the process and not about any end product. I was free to play! This freaked out my ‘inner perfectionist’, but even her voice was allowed to be heard, because in addition to space in the gallery, DAiSY funded six sessions with an amazing mentor: the artist and creative business coach, Caroline Jackman.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens
Image credit: Dawn Cozens

Through careful listening, questioning and astute feedback, Caroline has been helping me discover what helps and what hinders my creative practice. As an artist with a chronic illness, with symptoms which vary from day to day, I struggle to find any kind of consistency. So I asked Caroline to partner with me in discovering strategies that would enable me to establish a sustainable rhythm of work and rest during the residency.

As a professional painter and printmaker herself, Caroline was able to understand what my artistic goals were for the residency (trying to find ways of merging and combining poetry, photography, painting and printing onto a single physical surface (rather than by digital means)). She was fantastically encouraging, whilst also asking very direct and deeply challenging questions about how I would manage my expectations and hopes in the light of my continuing chronic ill health.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens

We met three times before the residency began, whilst I was beginning some preparative work on the project I had chosen for my residency (looking at wellbeing and the built environment, using the BrightWells Yard development in central Farnham as my starting point). Caroline then visited the open studio at the New Ashgate in my second week to see how I was actually managing my residency, and what approaches might need to be tweaked now that I knew the demands of the space and the rhythms of gallery visitors, and how my body was coping with the ‘open’ aspect of the studio, which meant I could be disrupted at any time.

We had planned to meet immediately after the residency finished to review the ways in which the residency had fulfilled or challenged my core hopes; and then to have a final session a couple of months later to see what changes and adaptations I had been able to make in my creative practice, and going forward, how I might develop those professionally. Through circumstances completely beyond my control, however, I became particularly ill through last autumn with back to back infections from which I am only now really beginning to recover. I am hugely thankful to Caroline who postponed our final sessions of 2023 until I was more well in 2024. It was a salient reminder that however carefully I look after myself and plan a sustainable practice, at any moment my body could refuse to play along, and shut down all projects.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens

For my part, I knew that the residency presented me with a new opportunity for me to develop my creative practice, which meant deepening my commitment to manage my health conditions in the best ways possible to support my creative work.  I was diagnosed with M.E. and clinical depression in 1990, and by 2004/5 I needed to use a wheelchair to get around outside my home. In 2015 I was diagnosed with having Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder (NEAD), and in 2019 as having a Functional Neurological Disorder (FND).  So I have learnt lots of tips and tools over the years for the best ways to pace myself, and I know that I can aggravate my conditions by not eating properly, by not keeping good sleep hygiene, or not having proper rests in between times of activity, for example.

 

Throughout our time working together, Caroline has kept me focussed on three key themes:

One, she asked, ‘What gives you joy?’

Two, she asked me focus on making work from within my limitations, rather than pushing myself to supersede them.

Three, she asked me to think carefully about ways in which I could make art in collaboration.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens

So I am trying to work out how, as a disabled writer, contemplative photographer and visual artist, I can do more of what gives me joy, irrespective of whether it is ‘work’ or not. I have begun experimenting with art that makes my limitations visible, and have begun trying to talk more openly and vulnerability and flourishing, and the importance of sharing my story. I have begun looking at the work I do and am now actively seeking partners who will work alongside me, as mentors, as co-creators, as funders or enablers. I do not have to do everything by myself. And I do not need to push beyond what my health can bear to increase the seemingly small amount I produce. The work is enough. I am enough.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens

And I am not alone as a disabled creative. There is a community of inspiring makers who are out there if only I will reach out to them. Being part of initiatives like the DAiSy-CHAIN brings us together, as can community charities like Creative Response Arts, as can the various town/county Creative Networks that are springing up, and we have exciting stories to share with those who may be like or unlike us.

Through talking with Caroline, and the way in which she so sensitively ‘heard’ me and so clearly reflected back to me, I have discovered that ill health has not completely beaten ambition out of me, as I thought it had. Despite having to manage my expectations, I am still determined to live my dream of being a professional artist, producing a body of meaningful work. I have learnt (yet again!) there is still time; there is still hope. Thank you Caroline. Thank you DAiSY.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens

To view Kate’s DAiSY~Chain Artist Profile, click here.

Image credit: Dawn Cozens