Dr Keir Williams
Dr Keir Williams.

The Artists’ International Development Fund is a joint partnership between the British Council and the Arts Councils in England and Northern Ireland which opens up international perspectives for artists to expand their horizons.

The Artists’ International Development Fund is more than just a way to put on an exhibition in another country. It gives artists the chance to share their passion with others and get their names out there. Artists build valuable connections and strong networks during their time abroad, as well as immersing yourself in a completely different culture.

"I possess a strong attraction to the potential of performance and play as a means to open up creative and discursive spaces."

Dr Keir Williams, Teaching Fellow in Design Thinking, Centre for Innovation, University of Bristol.

Dr Keir Williams is a British academic based at the University of Bristol. He was recently awarded a grant from the Artist’s International Development Fund which took him to Norway. Upon his return, Keir spoke to British Council about his work, his project in Norway, and why he was keen to develop further links with the far north of Europe as an academic and as an artist.

Having completed my MA in Fine Art in 2007 I’ve created work and organised projects for a number of national and international institutions. These include projects for TATE Britain, PS1 (MoMA, NY), the Institute of Contemporary Art in London and the Chapter Gallery in Cardiff. I’ve also worked with festivals such as Glastonbury, Boom Town, Secret Garden Party and Shambala. After completing my PhD in media and arts technologies within the Computer Science Department as Queen Mary’s University I became a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for the Digital Media BSc at the University of the West of England (UWE). I am currently a Teaching Fellow in Design Thinking at the Bristol Universities Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

My academic research and arts practice focuses on engaging and working with people and the contexts in which they inhabit. Much of what I do is premised on collaboration and the creation of participative structures and areas where people can learn, create and be entertained. I have worked with many different groups of people with a range of backgrounds, from programmers to Methodist ministers, nursery schools children to knitting groups, break-dancers to Tourette’s superheroes. As part of my collaborative practice I worked with artist Chris Poolman for a number of years. I tend to use a range of tools and mediums to realise my projects. In addition, I possess a strong attraction to the potential of performance and play as a means to open up creative and discursive spaces. Digital technology is used in much of my work but by no means does this define it. Rather, the tools and opportunities that digital technologies provide are a set of resources that one can call on as a practitioner.

This focus on people, place and collaboration took me to the far north with a group of artistic collaborators with a project entitled ‘Arctic Dialogues’. This project considers the circles of influence that exist between the UK and Norway through a practice based research approach. When we were asked by our partner organisations, Norldand Akademi of Art and Science, the Museum Nord and the Arts Council Norway, to return to Melbu during the summer to strengthen our ties with the Lofoten Islands and its populations, we decided to apply for the AIDF grant. 

As well as helping with the logistical side of travelling out there, the funding enabled us to build an environment in the largest of the tanks at the Industrial Fishing Museum, Melbu. This gigantic oil tank was once used to store fish oil and is now a kind of concert hall and gallery space. A performance was developed with two classical musicians from Norway and Iceland, who composed a series of pieces for guitar and cello based on the installation, soundscape and acoustics of the tanks in which we worked.

We called our piece, ‘Leviathan: The Deep’. The work consisted of a week-long audio-visual installation, two live performances of a specially written musical score and a concert developed for delegates of the annual International Arctic Dialogues conference. The main sculptural form was created using recovered timber from the local fishing port. This was then augmented by three interwoven and generative digital audio-visual systems that used the flocking behaviour of Herring, an addressable LED lighting rig, projection mapping on the sculpture and walls of the tank. We also introduced a soundscape based on the stories of local refugees and fishing men and women to create a sensorial and contemplative space.

Our opening night brought all of our collective, as well as members of the local population and families from local refugee groups. At the show was The Norwegian Minister for Europe, Frank Bakke-Jensen, who discussed with us the importance of creative engagement with the far North and the issues of resources, solidarity and migration. One of the highlights of the project is that it has a legacy. We are returning to Norway in the autumn for a new production in Melbu. This time, we will participate in their annual light festival in September. I have also been asked to offer my ideas and expertise to Nordland Akademi as a creative steer when it comes to their future international residency program. Overall, there where so many deeply moving moments that I will never forget, both in my capacity as working as part of a collective but also as an individual: the kindness and openness of the recently arrived refugee families; our late-night discussions on a traditional Norwegian cargo boat with the Rector of the Tromsø University, Anne Husebekk. In particular, the Director of the Akademi Maria Johanson was a constant inspiration.

We were all really delighted when the work was covered by local papers in Lofoton and profiled on the Akademi’s website. An aim of mine is to share information about it at up-coming academic conferences. 

There’s a saying in Norway. It’s hard to get over the door way of a Norwegians house but once you do you’ll never want to leave! I also hope that my Norwegian friends and colleagues might feel the same about us Brits. On that note, we are also creating a large installation based on our work in Norway at the We the Curious museum in Bristol as part of the Submerge festival.

Discover other AIDF projects

In this section, you can find out more about additional AIDF projects.

Borders: Lou Gilbert Scott and Anne Brodie

Lou Gilbert Scott and Anne Brodie completed a two week collaborative project which involved researching and navigating the literal and metaphorical border areas of Sápmi, homeland to the semi-nomadic Sami people of the Arctic. Their aim was to use clay and conversation to explore how borders inform, define and challenge our cultural and individual identities.

By building links with artists and significant art and cultural institutions in Northern Finland and Norway facilitated by the Finnish Institute in London, the Art Producer Kaisa Kerätär, and the AIDF, the project allowed the artists a greater understanding of the Sami Culture. 

Lou and Anne travelled to the Arctic to meet artists and establish new introductions to cultural and visual art organisations in the North of Finland and Norway. Their journey started with meetings and connections made in Helsinki, after which they travelled to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. The trip included visits to Kemijärvi and Sodankylä and across the Norwegian border into Karasjok where they visited the Sami Centre of Contemporary Art. They visited the Sami University College in Kautokeinowas and the University of Helsinki’s Biological station at Kilpisjarvi. 

About Lou Gilbert Scott

Lou is a potter and itinerant artist. Following an M.A at the RCA in 2003 her work focused on the ephemeral qualities of material and making and the symbolic value of the vessel as keeper of narratives. Her artistic practice has taken her into the landscape through making and walking, mapping geographical and historical journeys using clay as the conduit between people and place. 

About Anne Brodie

Anne Brodie is a visual artist with a cross disciplinary approach to her work. After a first degree in Biology, she completed an MA at the Royal College of Art in 2003. The recipient of Wellcome Trust Arts and Arts Council Awards, her practice is process driven, usually working collaboratively at the boundaries between science and art, with a recurrent theme around notions of absence and edges - from the non-object aspects of working with clay and glass, to the emptiness of Antarctica and ephemeral living light source of bioluminescence and its external relationship with the human body. 

External links