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Meet: Chrissie Gittins

Chrissie Gittins studied BA (Hons) Fine Art & Critical Practice, graduating in 1988 from Central Saint Martins.  She has had a varied and successful career, writing poetry, short fiction and radio drama.  Her latest collection of short stories, ‘Between Here and Knitwear’, is being released in November. Read more about her journey so far…

 Chrissie Gittins

Were you always interested in art? What made you want to study at St Martins?
I enjoyed art very much at school, but because of the exam system then – which wasn’t continuous assessment, and which I took against – I decided not to take it for A level. I had the distinction of coming top in the mock O Level drawing exam, and bottom in the painting exam, because I changed my mind half way through about what to paint and painted over my original subject; they both merged. I didn’t understand why a whole year’s work didn’t count. It was a very academic school and the arts weren’t encouraged. Also my father said he wouldn’t pay my fees if I went to Art School. I was the first person in my family to qualify to go to university and that’s what he wanted me to do. So I did an academic degree at Newcastle University and then trained to teach so that I could always earn a living.  Then I moved to London. The part-time 5-year BA Fine Art and Critical Studies course was just beginning at St Martins. I applied to join the first year and I was accepted. This time round my father offered to pay the fees.

Did you enjoy your time there? Favourite memories?
I enjoyed my time there very much, especially working in the communal studio on Charing Cross Road, sometimes late into the evening. Sadly Paul Eachus, who was one of our tutors, has just died. I learnt that it is very valuable to develop a body of work, and be able to see oneself as an artist. In the fourth year we undertook placements in the community. I fundraised to be Artist-in-Residence in Oxleas Wood in Greenwich – an area of ancient woodland which was under threat.

Stars in Jars

Have you stayed in touch with colleagues from the course?
I met one of my greatest friends on the first day of the course. She had a flask of coffee and I had a pile of sandwiches. We joined forces. Simon Pugh, who was also one of our tutors, will be coming to the launch of my new book, along with another couple of my fellow students from St Martins.

What have you been doing since graduating?
I was always torn at school between wanting to be an artist, and wanting to be a writer. After graduating from St Martins I went on several short creative writing courses, and attended classes at City Lit. I now write poetry, poetry for children, short fiction and radio drama. I’ve published two adult poetry collections and three adult pamphlet collections, four children’s poetry collections and a collection of short stories. Four of my plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio Four; they have starred Patricia Routledge, Sorcha Cusack and Jan Ravens. The actors Anne Reid, Stephanie Cole and Penelope Wilton have read my stories on BBC Radio Four, and I’ve read one too. I still do the occasional drawing, and several of my poems are inspired by art works.

Tell us more about the short story collection you are working on…
‘Between Here and Knitwear’ is my second short story collection and will be published by Unthank Books on 1 November. It’s going to be stocked by Foyles, which means it will live in the very building where I was an art student. This is the blurb on the back cover:

‘These twenty-two cleverly linked stories, written over two decades, trace a life from childhood to middle age. Beginning in Lancashire in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they follow a young girl as she becomes aware of what it means to be a daughter, a sister, a lover and a woman in a family where the relationships are constantly changing. From a disappeared clutch of curlew’s eggs to the last piece of furniture left standing in a home, these bleak and funny stories bolster what is lost into poignant narratives; told with lyricism, economy and wit, they are observed with the unflinching eye of an incisive witness.’

The drawing of a sun spot on the cover was done by my niece Esther Cooper-Gittins who has just graduated in Fine Art from Falmouth.

Between Here and Knitwear

What advice do you have for UAL alumni who hope to get recognised and published?
First of all the work has to be good. More than good. Celebrate small achievements; they will accumulate into a reputation. Take criticism seriously from those you admire. Read your work publicly at every opportunity. Be pro-active – for the most part you will need to do the asking.



Exhibition Studies talks: Victor Wang, Sakina Dhif and Rachel Pafe

Installation of the First Stars Exhibition, 1979. Courtesy of Huang Rui.

Installation of the First Stars Exhibition, 1979. Photo: Li Xiaobin, image courtesy of Huang Rui.

Victor Wang on the First Stars Exhibitions and Sakina Dhif/Rachel Pafe on ‘Past Disquiet’

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Time: 2pm to 4pm

Venue: CSM, Room KX A002

Victor Wang will share his research on a pivotal moment in Chinese exhibition histories: the 1979 and 1980 Stars Exhibitions (星星画会). Accompanied by documentation, the presentation will consider the importance of the public sphere and civil resistance with the beginnings of a contemporaneity in post-Cultural Revolution China.

Victor Wang (王宗孚) is a curator and exhibition-maker based between London and Shanghai. Most recently he was appointed the K11 curator of the travelling and collaborative exhibition between Palais de Tokyo and K11 Art Foundation, ‘Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant’ at the chi k11 art museum, Shanghai. Victor is also a Curator in Residence at Contemporary Art Heritage Flanders (CAHF): a knowledge platform initiated by and built around the collections of four contemporary art museums in Flanders, Belgium: S.M.A.K. (Ghent), Mu.ZEE (Ostend), MUHKA & Middelheimmuseum (Antwerp).

Sakina Dhif and Rachel Pafe will present part of an ongoing project that examines the historically repetitive desires behind archival exhibition making. They will present the second version of a performative reading that will first be given at the PARSE Biennial in Gothenburg. Using an exhibition earlier this year at MACBA, ‘Past Disquiet’ (curated by Rasha Salti and Kristine Khouri), as an entry point, they will discuss messianic time, archival impulses, haunting, withdrawal and the place of fiction in exhibition studies.

Rachel Pafe and Sakina Dhif are researcher/writers/artists based between London, Washington DC, Brussels and the floating world. Graduates of the MRes Art: Exhibition Studies programme at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, they began to collaborate in 2014. Jointly they experiment in order to question the concepts of fiction, ghosts and repetition in fiction and academic writing. Sakina’s latest research looked at the Arab Image Foundation, in Beirut, Lebanon, to explore the relations existing between an art institution’s space, its collection and possible procedures. Rachel’s practice centers on iterative ideology, desire and associated politics, juxtaposing the mundane, absurd and ideal through the lens of messianism. She examines this within the exhibition format: through academic writing, fiction and a hybrid involving spoken word.

Places are limited, so please contact Dr Lucy Steeds if you are interested in attending.


Further information about the CSM Research Group, ‘Exhibitions: Histories, Practices’.

Meet: Nicola Anthony

Nicola Anthony studied Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at Central Saint Martins in 2003.  She has been working as an artist ever since, and was recently selected to create a sculpture for the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore. She used 10,000 ping pong balls, each inscribed with a wish from 5000 students, teachers, families, the public, folk back home in the UK, and even Singapore’s beloved national table tennis players…

Ouroboros for the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore

Nicola with the sculpture ‘Ouroboros’

What made you decide to come to London and study Art & Design?  And what specifically interested you about Central Saint Martins?
London is the hub of the creative world, where many cultures, subcultures and a deep history infuse the city. I had visited the degree shows many times and just felt drawn to CSM.

Did it help you prepare for life after graduation?
Training was intense, as is London and the art world. It taught me to constantly push myself and be proactive. Living in London also gave me the ability to adapt to life in other cities where I have lived and travelled – currently Singapore.

What tips would you give to new students preparing to study the degree at CSM?
Use the course to its fullest.  Grab every opportunity you can to learn and gain new skills while you have the space, tutors and equipment at your fingertips.

What was the most important thing you did after graduation?
I got my own space in London, and then I made the decision to ignore the competitive and cagey side of the art world and instead approached it in an open manner. I am always happy to help other artists in their practice and careers, and so I am surrounded by a supportive network who will also help and advise me.

Six Thousand Moments at EX PARTE

Six Thousand Moments at EX PARTE

Tell us about your career highlights so far, and how your sculpture came to be commissioned for the 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games…
I’ve been creating large works in Asia, as well as working with the human voice – often doing opening calls for my Word Collection or inviting select communities to become the subject of the artwork. For this sculpture the SEA Games wanted to get that human voice across, so they invited me to propose an idea. I think the fact that I wanted to do something slightly mad with Ouroboros – work with over 5000 individuals, and use 10,000 ping pong balls as material convinced them it was extraordinary enough to represent the SEA games!

I’m also showing in an exhibition on Brick Lane opening this week on 18th June – EX PARTE – which is selected by curator Annie Jael Kwan to showcase key artists who work in the UK and Singapore. For me this is great recognition and a poignant link between my two worlds. For the first time ever I am presenting quite a personal work where the subject is the journey between my two homes.

Next year I have been invited on the NPE residency in Asia, which is a collaboration with a printing factory. I hope to use the time to develop some ideas that have been infusing on the back burner.

Who/What is your greatest inspiration?
There are so many. Being inspired is important. I like to learn from the passion and spirit of others from the Art world and further afield – I watch a lot of TED talks!

It sounds clichéd, but my first inspiration to become a professional artist was the Young British Artists show. I read a lot about them and the way their careers came about, I saw that they were able to create unconventional pieces.

Anything else exciting to mention?
Actually I’ll be giving a talk in London at 2pm on Saturday so do come to find out more about a new work called Six Thousand Moments at EX PARTE.  I hand collected and hand numbered 6000 seeds in Asia. Each number relates to an entry in the archive of seed memories, a log of the moments in which each was collected. The audience are invited to pick up a seed to keep, thereby sharing those stories with me.  You can watch a video about the exhibition here.

Research presentations on Exhibition Studies – 24 March

Paulo Nazareth, Noticias de America [News from the Americas], 2011–12 (Michelle Sommer)

Paulo Nazareth, Noticias de America [News from the Americas], 2011–12 (Michelle Sommer)

Tuesday 24 March 2015
Time: 10am to 1pm
Venue: CSM, Room KX D119

Presentations by 3 members of staff/visiting scholars:

Erika Tan (4D Pathway tutor at Central Saint Martins) will speak about her current research for her next film, focusing on ‘minor exhibition histories’ through the figure of a forgotten Malay weave/performer within the Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.

Maria Iñigo Clavo (visiting research fellow in Exhibition Studies, from the University of São Paulo) will reflect on how to display history. What happens when you rub a work of contemporary art up against one from the colonial era, or against an ethnographic artefact?

Michelle Sommer (visiting PhD candidate in Exhibition Studies, from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul) will speak about her current research into contemporary practices of ‘errancy’ in Brazilian art, reflecting on artistic proposals for which being in motion is a fundamental condition. The leading question is: how to exhibit an art that escapes the frame of an exhibition, or how is it possible to write new exhibition narratives to discuss these artworks?

Places are limited, so please contact Dr Lucy Steeds if you are interested in attending:


Further information about the CSM Research Group: Exibition Histories Practices.

Hammad Nasar: Navigating the Afterlife of ‘The Other Story’ – 14 April

Cover of the exhibition catalogue for ‘The Other Story’, Hayward Gallery, 1989

Cover of the exhibition catalogue for ‘The Other Story’, Hayward Gallery, 1989

Tuesday 14 April 2015
Time: 10am to 12.30
Venue: CSM, Room KX D107

A presentation by Hammad Nasar.

Tate Britain’s exhibition ‘Migrations: Journeys into British Art’ (2012) can be seen as an attempt to map the impact of immigrant artists on the landscape of ‘British’ art over the past 500 years. It can also be positioned as an effort to productively complicate the ‘Britain’ in Tate Britain. But if we sharpen our focus to one of the nine galleries covering different eras that comprised the exhibition, it can be read as a partial restaging of the Hayward Gallery’s ‘The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-war Britain’ (1989).

‘The Other Story’ – Rasheed Araeen’s polemical intervention – is among the small number of historically significant exhibitions in 1989 that have collectively shaped a new geography of contemporary art. But I do not see ‘Migrations’ as an example of the de rigueur reconstruction of key exhibitions. I see it, instead, as an inadvertent restaging: compelled, as if by a ghost, to address questions that have been left unanswered.

Based on access to Araeen’s personal archives, this paper begins a longer-term inquiry into how the artworks, and the discourses they were embedded in, changed during the 23 years it took them to move from the South Bank to Milbank. It also asks, through specific examples based on recent exhibitions in Asia, if migration ‘into British Art’ is matched by an emigration out of other places? Where does British art history intercept with that of Pakistan, the Philippines, or Taiwan?

Places are limited, so please contact Dr Lucy Steeds if you are interested in attending:


Further information about the CSM Research Group: Exibition Histories Practices.