Nicola Ellis
Henry Moore Artist Research Fellowship 2022-23

‘Breakdown’ by Garth Evans. Steel. 1971. Image sourced from the artists website.



Nicola Ellis, Artist Research Fellow 2022-2023

Title: Contextual considerations.  




  1. To research the Artist Placement undertaken by Garth Evans at British Steel  Corporation 1969 – 1971 and to understand the immediate and lasting impact the  placement had on Evans’ work and practice.  
  2. To carefully consider the phrase ‘context is half the work’ – used regularly by Artist  Placement Group when describing the approach to placements and their tangible and  intangible results – in relation to Evans’ placement. I will consider how the context of  the British steel sites shaped Evans’ work at the time, how it was manifested in his work and in the documentation of the placement.  

To carry out this research I request access to Evans’ artist papers, the photographic work  ‘British Steel Photographs 1969-71’ and all other documentation of the placement at British  Steel in the HMI archive. I will then cross reference this information with documentation of  Evans’ sculpture in the archive, including exhibition catalogues and press release materials produced either side of the placement period.  



Throughout the last ten years I have been working with steel and fabrication processes to  develop a sculptural practice which has occupied increasing amounts of space in industrial and  manufacturing environments. During the last three years I have developed a strong  relationship with Ritherdon & Co Ltd, a manufacturer of steel enclosures in Darwen,  Lancashire. This has resulted in a shift towards responding to context as a main mode of  operating at the Ritherdon factory and in my wider practice.  


My work that is produced at the Ritherdon site ultimately has two lives: the first taking place within the factory and functioning as a disruption or something ‘other’, which still speaks the  same languages as the factory ecosystem. The second life of the work plays out in a gallery or  other presentation space as something that has been shaped by a context elsewhere which  – more often than not – few people in that space have had the opportunity to experience first  hand. The work does bring information about its original context out of the factory, however inevitably some of its original nuances are lost in the re-location, often replaced with  information about its new context.  


I have now secured a permanent residency at the Ritherdon factory however I have also  reached a natural point for reflection on the role and translation of context in my existing  works, before planning the production of new work. I want the new work to utilise the  inevitable losing/gaining of nuance as part of the work itself rather than it existing as an  obstacle to be maneuvered around, in the exhibition phase.  


To date I have been able to discuss the idea of Artist Placements and the concept of ‘context is  half the work’ with artists working in different contexts, however I have not been able to  connect with anyone specifically about placements in steel-based production and manufacturing.  However, by combining my lived experiences of working within steel  production plants/manufacturing contexts with access to the HMI Garth Evans archive  material, I will gain a deeper understanding of how the British Steel context appears in Evans’s  practice and works, which will function as a much-needed point of reference for my own practice at this time.  


In the first instance this research will inform my ongoing sculptural responses to a  manufacturing context. In the second instance it will inform my thinking around an additional  – and more formal- collaborative relationship with Ritherdon and robotics specialist  Digiotouch, which will continue until the end of 2023. The project will explore product  customization and the potential for human-robotic collaborations on the Ritherdon factory  floor. My role within the project will include the facilitation of co-created knowledge by  machine operators, factory management, myself and the technology provider. This will ensure people operating the new infrastructure and technology will have input into how it will  function within their working environment. . I will also be developing a new range of powder  coating finishes for Ritherdon, informed by my previous artworks and experiments in the  factory ‘paint shop’.  Therefore, the considerations about context facilitated by the HMI archive  will also inform my thinking around this 180 degree shift in dynamics, in which my practice  begins to inform factory infrastructure and my work is presented in the context of Ritherdon  products and customer base. 





My 4 week artist research fellowship was split into individual weeks between August 2022 and February 2023. In this time I accessed archive material about Garth Evans’ fellowship at British Steel Corporation (B.S.C) in 1969-1971, along with material in the library and artist papers about his work and practice before and after his fellowship. I also reflected on my own experience as an artist undertaking an ongoing residency in industry, in relation to the Evans material. 


Overall It was very interesting to see which experiences documented in the archive were relatable and which were understandable but not a shared experience. It is impossible to record the volume of insights gained by this material in this report, and the knowledge will continue to overlap with other important aspects of my practice as it continues to develop. 


However, in the long standing tradition of contradiction which runs through a lot of APG material (which is a major appeal and point of interest, in my opinion), I was also – at times – left wanting more information. Some material also raised more questions than it answered! I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t possible to document all aspects of artist placements or residencies outside of art contexts and nor should it be an absolute aim. Some activities and experiences should be reserved solely for the people working within the placement context (including the artist). After all, placements are enabled by individuals and real relationships so maybe not everything has to be re-presented to an external audience.


The experience of exploring the archive itself was extremely useful and led me to re-examine what information about my own residency in industry is available to the public and where it is available from. Considering the amount of Evans’ archive material available and what aspects of the fellowship it shed light on, It became apparent that I need to compile and present the documentation, outcomes and experiences from my own residency in industry in a single destination. In response to this, an online archive website for materials relating to my ongoing placement at Ritherdon has been made and is now being populated (slowly).


This may be a reflection of the nature of Evans’ contact with B.S.C sites, but I often found myself wishing for more material documenting the ‘day-to-day’ activities of his fellowship timeline. In relation to this, my HMI fellowship was strategically undertaken at a natural ‘pause’ in my own residency activity, partially for the purpose of reflecting on the experience of it to date. I found reflecting on such a long and complex experience to be very difficult – particularly in a linear format such as a written document- although I have come to realise it is increasingly important to punctuate the timeline of my residency with written reflections in addition to the more ‘naturally occurring’ other outcomes (artworks, exhibitions, events). I believe this reflection will be most useful to myself and most informative to others if it is an exploration of the whole residency experience and the fluctuating factors which shape it on an ongoing basis. This will communicate the context in which the residency is carried out in, and how that may also evolve over time. Establishing a good understanding of this will help explore the question ‘is context half the work?’ posed by APG. 


In response to this I wrote the paper ‘Progress Report framework’ to help structure this reflection. In the first instance I will use this to reflect on my own experiences at Ritherdon since 2018 in a written document. Progress Report Framework will also be made public on my HMI visiting fellow profile for other artists to use in a similar way, should they find it useful to do so. Please scroll down for a copy of this text.


Note: The title ‘Progress Report’ refers to the title of the short annual report Garth Evans wrote to communicate some of his fellowship activities and intentions to B.S.C. (and potentially to APG but this is unclear)


As part of my fellowship I hosted two study days focused on the Garth Evans B.S.C fellowship materials which were attended by members of the Incidental Unit (IU) and other interested parties. The first via an online meeting focused on essays and videos sourced in the HMI library during the first week of the fellowship and through suggestions from the IU.

The second study day was online and in person where attendees could explore the archive material at the HMI archive itself or access some scanned materials shared online. An online discussion was held later in the afternoon.

My experiences with the IU has taught me that the experience of researching APG placements can be exponentially accelerated by turning parts of it into a team sport. In the spirit of our ongoing aim to document IU activity, I am grateful to  Marsha Bradfield, Amanda Loomes, Sara Grisewood, Michele Allen, Emma Dryer, Polly Wright, Ester Windsor, Laura Trevail, Ulrike Jordan, Annie Carpenter and Hannah Leighton-Boyce for attending one or both of the study days, for sharing their enthusiasm for A.P.G archive material and their individual insights from their respective practices and placements.  






A framework to support artists reflecting on artist placement experiences

Written by Nicola Ellis during a Henry Moore Artist Research Fellowship 2022-2023



In my experience, artist placements – or elements of placements – shape themselves as their timelines progress. One form of this shaping is ‘the domino effect’, where one experience/interaction/realisation very logically and clearly leads to another, in a reasonably controlled and linear fashion. Another form of placement self-shaping is the ‘rolling snowball’, where material, ideas and actions are collected via the inevitably linear passage of time on a placement site, and become compressed together in a less clearly defined mass of overlaps. The task of reflecting on these overlaps becomes increasingly complex as the snowball continues to roll down the hill. Due to the nature of artist placements, it is often the case that multiple rolling snowballs and sets of dominoes are in motion at any one time. 


Reflecting on an artist placement while it is happening can be difficult – particularly in the early stages – because the artist is trying to:


*Develop a way of working in a new environment, which is most likely overstimulating.

*Compare this new way of working with the way they have worked elsewhere.

*Consider how people in the new environment perceive them and perceive what they are doing, despite what they are doing being – most likely – unknown at that time.

*Consider how people outside of the new environment perceive them, what they are doing and how information about these unknowns will be presented to the world outside of the new environment.


While the above points are being resolved, a lot of time is consumed with moment-by-moment negotiation processes which are ZOOMED IN on small details and occurrences. Moving through these experiences becomes the priority and deep reflection on the placement’s relevance to a wider context can often take a back seat. 


However, reflection eventually becomes crucial and a ‘ZOOMING OUT’ needs to take place. This zooming out might be enforced due to an event in the timeline of the placement which demands it, such as an exhibition or other public presentation. The zooming out might also be prompted at a more natural point at which some breathing space in the placement activity reveals itself. 


Below is a framework to help structure this zooming out process, whenever it occurs. It features a non-exhaustive list of points to consider when reflecting on an artist placement experience, which may in turn help communicate information about relevant contexts in which the activity is informed by/relates to.


The list is in no particular order of importance and features main points in bold text, with sub-points for consideration underneath these in Italics. I recommend the list be edited and additional relevant points added as necessary. 



Consider the following points and how they affect(ed) the artist placement activities:


1)  How the artist and the organisation met and how the placement was initiated 


2) The size of the organisation’s workforce. The size now, in the recent past and plans for change in the future. 


3) The physical layout of the organisation’s property. How does this impact the organisation and the artist?


4) How the workforce communicate with each other Consider formal and informal communication. When do these take place in relation to the working day and the working week? Do social events take place outside of work time?


5) How the workforce communicate with the artist. Consider formal and informal communication and how this compares to communication with other people in the organisation. 


6) Individual characters within the workforce at the time of the placement and the amount of time they have been in the workforce. The workforce is a group of individuals who enable the artist. Consider how individual people enable – or don’t enable – and why this is. Consider the impact of any long-standing members of staff. How do they contribute to the workforce and impact the artists’ activities? 


7) If the workforce and the artist share a common language (knowledge of process, material, systems, intent etc). A common language can build the initial bridge between an artist and individuals working in an organisation. What are these common languages?


8) If the artist and the people in the workforce understand each other’s values. What are these interpersonal common values and how have they been identified and discussed? Are there any non-shared values or clashes? 


9) If the artist and workforce find each other interesting. Is there mutual interest in each other’s work or approach? How is this communicated? 


10) If the artist and organisation share common values. What are the organisation’s values and how are they communicated to people outside of the organisation? How are they communicated to the artist (formally and informally).  How does the artist communicate their values?


11) How workload is managed in the organisation. This may include formal and informal systems of information and data moving around the organisation. Reflect on hierarchy and the agency of individual people in relation to their working environment and tasks. How is labour performed, by whom and when?


12) How the artist manages their workload . Does the artist work with or encounter any similar types of information (by choice or out of necessity) to people in the organisation? How does the artist manage this, comparatively?


13) How much time the artist spends on the organisations site. The frequency across a timeline e.g per day, week, month, year. The length of time per session.


14) Does the artist have autonomy on the placement site? Does the artist have access to facilities or systems to work autonomously, if required?


15) How long the organisation has existed. What is the organisation’ timeline? Has it always existed in the same form and provided the same services/products? Does it have a significant history of changes in management


16) How the organisation is funded. Has this always been the same? If not, how has this changed over time? How does the source of funds impact the organisation and by extension of this, the artist’s activities.


17) What state the organisation is in. Financially, physically, personnel, public opinion, the organisation’s immediate position in their ‘market’ or other relevant field. 


18) The state of the wider industry or market the organisation belongs to. Consider the position of the organisation in national and global markets, league tables, industries or any other relevant contexts. How does this impact the artist’s activities now and in the future?


19) What are the artists and the organisation’s agendas? Are they the same, compatible or incompatible? 


20) Are any other interested parties or stakeholders involved in the placement? Who are these other parties? What is the power dynamic between all parties involved? 


21) How has the placement impacted the practice, operations or approach of all parties involved, during the timeline of the placement? Consider formal and informal processes. Zoom in on individual people and zoom out to consider wider organisational structure and policy. 


22) How will the placement impact the practice, operations or approach of all parties involved, beyond the timeline of the placement? Speculation may be necessary here. Consider asking this question to all parties involved.


23) Is context ‘half the work’? In reference to the phrase ‘context is half the work’, which was coined by Artist Placement Group, how does the context of the placement inform or relate to the work? ‘The work’ could be physical outcomes or any other activity appropriate to your reflective process. 




Some of the above points may be instantaneously relevant and some may become more or less relevant throughout the timeline of a placement, if at all.


Placements are ongoing and constantly shifting. You may wish to keep a copy of your reflections and re-edit a copy at a later date. This could be a good way to keep track of a shifting experience without having to reinvent the wheel every time. 


You may want to enforce a word limit on each section as a useful parameter. The point of this exercise is to reach a kind of summary or punctuation in the timeline of the placement. 


You may wish to change the language used in the points above. For example, there may be a more appropriate word to describe the organisations ‘workforce’ in the context of your placement. 


Each artist placement experience is different to the next. Reflecting on the experience using this framework – or a similar version – could be a way to create some common ground and calibration between the placement experiences of different artists.