Gordon Forum for the Arts


Summer 2011

Merlyn Riggs

Merlyn Riggs

An artist introduces her practice

“I have a socially engaged, collaborative art practice, focusing on public participatory art works. It can be termed Dialogical Art, Anthropological Art or Social Sculpture.”

That's how my C.V. opens. Sounds very grand doesn't it, but what does it mean? What do I do?

I can cook. I have been a finalist on Masterchef, have recently been published in Charles Campion's book Eat Up and in London my food was the Lunchtime Special at Fortnum and Mason. It sold out. For me, it was as good as getting a painting hung in the Tate!

I specialise in traditional everyday Scottish food with a 21st century spin (i.e. skirlie stuffed butternut squash).

I realised that food and hospitality were key elements in bringing people together. Everybody eats and all have opinions, thoughts, ideas and memories connected with food. People also love to talk and so I combined the two, food and dialogue, into an art form.

My practice is essentially peripatetic, that is — it is mobile, I can take my art anywhere. It is not restricted to art galleries or exhibition spaces, instead I can perform at a bus stop or in a field! (both of which I have done).

Merlyn Riggs

I use my practice to bring people together to discuss specific issues. I create a warm, relational context, usually a social event based on eating, introduce content, sometimes through keynote speakers and let the conversation begin.

I graduated from Gray's School of Art in 2008 with a first-class Honours Degree in Sculpture and have worked incessantly ever since including a residency with Deveron Arts, Aberdeen Women's Association, Scottish Women's Council, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Scottish Book Trust and currently with Scottish Sculpture Workshop and the Rowett Institute of Food and Nutrition.

To give you an idea of my art in action I have The Peripatetic Tearoom which I can load into the back of my van and set up anywhere. I recently used it for the piece “What Do You Put on Your Plate?” in collaboration with the Rowett, using the tearoom as a research tool to engage and interact with the public. We asked the participants both metaphorically and literally what they put on their plate. They identified influences, created their own plates, contributed to an exhibition and wrote their comments on the Wall whilst enjoying a warm, home-baked scone and a cup of tea in a classic tearoom setting equipped with embroidered tablecloths and china tea sets and meeting new people. The research was a great success.

Merlyn Riggs

I have also hosted several Art Breakfasts where I offer the opportunity for members of the arts community in Aberdeenshire to come together. They have centred around keynote speakers and specific themes, e.g. Richard Demarco on “Joseph Beuys in Scotland”, Hans Abbing on “Why are Artists Poor?”, Peter Jenkinson on “Greater Openness in the Art World” and Mary Jane Jacob and Hamish Fulton on “Can Walking be Art?”. The outcome is in the networking and relationships made when attending these events.

Although these are events for specific audiences, I also work in the public sphere usually on Union Street in the Golden Zone in front of Marks and Spencers where we take ignored issues like Domestic Abuse, celebrating International Women's Day and make them visual. We reach four to six hundred people on average. I have exhibited in the Scottish Parliament, Royal Scottish Academy, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Lumsden Main Street and Stewart's Hall and Ex-Servicemen's Club in Huntly.

I like my participants to be comfortable with my art, not distracted by looking for meaning as in some contemporary art. The meaning is in the participation. You get what you put into it, what you bring to the table. I believe, like Beuys, that everyone is creative, I give them the chance to find out.

Gordon Forum for the Arts

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