A man carrying a large pile of hay on his back. The image is tinted purple.
Practice in Place

Practice in Place - Simon Lee Dicker

Simon Lee Dick­er shares his expe­ri­ence of liv­ing as an artist in rur­al Somerset.

Posted
25/06/24

Tell us about you & your practice

I was born and spent the first part of my life in suburban London, between Bush & Bowie, and for the past 20 years I have been living and working in rural Somerset. I have a restless artistic practice and consider myself predominantly a visual artist whose work explores landscape and the marks we make on the natural world. From intimate drawings and transient installations to event based social activities my art explores the complex and entangled relationships between the human and more-than-human world.

Recent work has taken the form of temporary sculptural installations and ceramics underpinned by creative writing and drawing. Key works include: See-an-enemy (SLUICE/PADA,Lisbon 2022 and SHOPWORK, Somerset 2024), a sculptural installation using chalk, unfired clay and ceramics that draws parallels between the subterranean world and the linguistic and cultural legacy brought about through human colonisation; and The Flatlands (Arnolfini, Bristol 2023), consisting of a large-scale sculptural installation combining a tyre stack and short film inspired by Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque, exploring ideas of entropy, de-architecturalisation and edgelands in the rural landscape.

Both projects use materials that evoke a state of flux, somewhere between construction and destruction, referencing the architecture of post-industrial landscapes and, in the case of See-an-enemy and current studio-based work, exploring my relationship with ‘more-than-human’ species – ecosystem engineers that restore, regenerate and rewild.

In 2011 I co-founded OSR Projects CIC with Chantelle Henocq, an organisation that connects people through artist-led activity. We produce ambitious, playful and socially engaged art projects in the South West and further afield, including the bi-annual Od Arts Festival across the villages of East Coker and West Coker in Somerset.

Other notable work includes a long-term project with Weymouth College, The Friendly Society of Artistic Labourers, devised as a form of radical work experience that brings together students from all creative arts subjects to produce and present new work at different venues; including Shire Hall Historic Courthouse, Nothe Fort and Dorset Museum. I also worked as a producer for b-side festival in Dorset and continue to make work inspired by the unique landscape and history of Portland.

A man carrying a large pile of hay on his back. The image is tinted purple.
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A large pile of car tires lit in a dark room
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What are the great art spaces and organisations you love to visit?

The cultural offer in Somerset has grown over the past few years with smaller commercial galleries such as CLOSE ltd and Bo Lee and Workman supporting artistic practice, alongside the big hitters like Hauser & Wirth and East Quay Watchet that programme great work, have good food, brilliant educational programmes and are always worth a visit. Hestercombe Gallery has played a significant role in my artistic development, from working there as a technician when the gallery first opened in 2014 to showing Red Hot Haystacks as part of Odyssean: Topographies in 2018. I have recently spent time with the wonderful team at Drawing Matter, based at Shatwell farm just outside Bruton; and although the collection is moving from Somerset to London, I would highly recommend that anyone interested in architecture and drawing visit their online archive.

Other South West based spaces I gravitate towards include Spike Island and Arnolfini (Bristol); MIRROR, Karst and The Box, (Plymouth); Messums (Wiltshire); RAMM and Exeter Phoenix (Exeter); CAST, Kestle Barton and Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange (Cornwall).

A large stack of loose hay. The image is tinted purple.
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What resources or facilities are there that you (can) access?

By far the greatest facility that I have access to is the network of creative practitioners I have worked with since setting up OSR Projects. From fundraising to fabrication, they have it covered!

In a practical sense it is our community kiln, Mrs P, named after the amazing art teacher who taught my two children and got us all into pottery. During the 2020 pandemic we set up a lockdown pottery project to keep creative minds and hands busy. This led to setting up Community Clay, an ongoing project that provides kiln hire and workshops for our local community to explore life through making with clay. We run workshops, occasional family taster sessions and a regular Thursday Night Potters session.

A person holding their hand out with a key in their palm. The key looks handmade.
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Cheerlead for your peers! - Who would you like to shout loudly about?

As a passionate advocate for artist-led projects I’m a big fan of artists who create opportunities for other artists and the communities they live with, often working for very little pay in the margins of an egocentric art world. Big up to Laura Eldret (More than Ponies), Susie Clark and Andy Parker (Shopwork, Frome), Alexa de Ferranti (Lower Hewood farm), Chantal Powell, (Hogchester Arts), Cape Farewell, Liam Jolly (Auction House), Patrick Lowery (Backlane West), RAME Projects, Kit Form, BRICKS, and LOW PROFILE.

I was lucky enough to take part in The Cornwall Workshop 2024, organised by Teresa Gleadowe (CAST) and led this year by Mike Nelson. Check out this dream team of artists and art workers who participated in the workshop that all deserve a shout out.

Finally I’d like to thank all the artists who have taken part in Od Arts Festival over the past six years (too many to mention) and the brilliant team that has helped shape the festival: Bob Gelsthorpe, Vickie Fear, Cat Bag, Rowan Lear and Chantelle Henocq.

A man inside a large plastic bubble, on a beach at sunset.
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Where do you make your work?

Most of my time is spent at OSR Projects in West Coker.

Nothing much ever happened at West Coker. No great man was born or lived or died there. No battle was fought near it nor did any constitutional crisis have its rise in its neighbourhood. It was never the centre of great industry nor the source of wide spreading trade. No relic of saint nor monument of art nor scene of natural beauty ever attracted visitors.

- The Annals of West Coker, Sir Matthew Nathan (1957)

This was our starting point for setting up OSR Projects. A place in the middle of nowhere where nothing much ever happened. Obviously, it’s not as extreme as that, as Sir Matthew Nathan managed to write over 500 pages about West Coker, but creatively this seemed like a good place to start; a blank canvas.

The Old School Room of Church Street, West Coker was originally built in 1850. After 26 years, the educational needs of the village quickly outgrew the space and a new school was built; the Old School Room became a social space and un-official village hall hosting all manner of gatherings over the next 160 years. After working without a studio for six years, Chantelle Henocq and I moved into the building as a base for our art and design practices, and the Old School Room became OSR Projects.

The Old School Room has held a special place in the heart of the village over many generations and we did not want to keep the door closed. As a natural extension of my arts practice, I was keen for the building to remain a place of learning, meeting and sharing which, through the filter of contemporary art, was still a place for people to come together.

A stone building with a wooden sign jutting out from the building on a pole that says 'OSR PROJECTS'
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What opportunities are there for artists in your area?

My first art commission on moving to Somerset was as lead artist on the River Parrett Trail by Somerset Art Works, who are a membership organisation that provides small bursaries for emerging artists and runs an annual art week. Other local groups providing opportunities for visual artists include Yeovil Creatives and ACE Arts Somerton.

One of the reasons we set up OSR Projects was the lack of opportunities to engage with the kind of critically engaged art we enjoyed. An art that celebrated its locality but with an eye always on the bigger picture. Our aim was to make connections with artists and creative workers across boundaries, so many of our relationships that have flourished are with artists and organisations from all around the UK and internationally.

A group of people walking down a path in a wooded area. The person at the front of the line is holding a stick upright with a pair of pants tied to the end.
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What or who helps you maintain your practice?

Stubborn refusal to give up, passion and determination. The occasional commission or residency and very occasional sale of work helps, but mostly it is the love and support from all the brilliant people I get to work with, especially Chantelle Henocq who is my biggest critic and supporter.

A woman walking past a large gold curtain looking to camera.
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What else would you love VASW's audiences to know about where you live and work as an artist?

In 2012 Tim Martin from Hestercombe Gallery and I were awarded a travel bursary from VASW to visit Kyiv, Ukraine to meet artists, curators and art workers that we are still in touch with now. Big thanks to VASW for inviting me to share my practice, and for the support over the years.

How can people find out more about your work?

www.simonleedicker.co.uk

osrprojects.co.uk

odartsfestival.co.uk

@simonleedicker
@osrprojects
@odartfest

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