People, Places, Process: The Shops Project with FrenchMottershead

ImageFluke and happenstance are as good a way to meet people and find work as any other. I met Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead of FrenchMottershead while they were on their way out after a meeting with Jane Rolo, Book Works‘ director. As my project at Book Works was coming to an end, I mentioned I’d be interested in working with them if they ever wanted to pursue the book they’d talked about with Jane. Not long after they contacted me to get me on board to help them do exactly that.

The book compiles four years of research, documentation and artworks that have come out of FrenchMottershead‘s international The Shops Project, which looks at human interaction in society through the lens of local shops. Throughout the project, which started in 2005 and finished in 2010, the artists invited shop owners, staff and customers to become involved in a process of participation and exchange, which investigated the regular patterns of life around certain shops and how they reflect a city and its people at that moment in time.

As Rebecca and Andrew had never worked on a book or catalogue before, it was an interesting process, for them and me. Although they work with communities, and their work is to a large extent about process, they made a clear distinction between what they saw as their artwork, and what they saw as part of the trajectory leading up to it. This was probably enhanced by the fact that they were working towards a show on the project at Site Gallery in Sheffield, heavily immersed in the selection of work to put in the exhibition space, and that the publication was intended to be its catalogue. This led to many interesting conversations about the selection of material for a book, and the difference with working on an exhibition, about groupings and juxtapositions between texts and images, and about what to leave out, and what to definitely include and how. The result is a multi-layered, dense overview of how they approached The Shops Project initially, how it changed over time as they travelled to different locations, and how what came out of their trips as artwork started to change and became richer and more complex.

The book comprises texts by the artists (both written at the time of each project, via their blog, but also reflections written while compiling the book) and local writers from the cities they’d visited – including Ljubljana, São Paulo, Salvador, Iasi, Istanbul, Guangzhou and Sheffield. These sit alongside contributions from Peter Jackson (Professor of Human Geography at The University of Sheffield), Emma Cocker (artist, writer and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art), and artist and writer Tim Etchells. All this material combined shows, describes and analyses unique customers’ and shop owners’ stories in a range of different shopping landscapes, emphasising their differences but also revealing their connections and common grounds.

Published by Site Gallery, Sheffield, to accompany the project and the exhibition The Shops Project, 21 November 2009–13 February 2010. Designed by Jasmine Raznahan for Sara de Bondt studio.

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