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Since writing The Non-Expert a few months ago, this idea has lodged itself firmly in my mind, becoming more useful than I was aware of at the time. It’s definitely been my most popular post by far, which is very possibly because, whilst only some of us have had the opportunity to watch babies explore the world over a long period of time, all of us have been a baby exploring the world at one point in our lives, and the perspective of the Non-Expert is valuable because it is so relatable. I knew that it needed testing and developing.

Recently, I was invited to take part in a research residency at Whitley Bay in the North East of England. I was one of six artists responding to the landscape around St Mary’s Lighthouse, which is sometimes on a little island and sometimes not, depending on the tide. This residency came about from a research group which began during lockdown, focusing on various rocky landscapes and different ways of learning more about them. It allowed us each to develop our thinking by gathering and responding to the same rocky landscape and culminated in a symposium held in the Lighthouse, perfectly titled “Rock Up!” at which all six artists presented their experiences and engaged in rocky conversations. It was supported and hosted by ArtHouses.

As a recent artist mother, the only way I could take part was with a baby in tow. Not only did she have to come with me, but the simplest way of navigating any childcare challenges would be to involve her in my work. Rather than a hindrance, this was an opportunity to bring the Non-Expert into the field. 

Though she’s explored a range of environments, she was still coming to the particular landscape of St. Mary’s Lighthouse with no prior knowledge, which was an ideal scenario to let her loose and observe how she interacted with the rocky, pebbly, sandy coastline. What I hoped was that this situation would act almost as a controlled experiment where I could follow her lead as she offered up a range of practical activities which could be replicated with other landscapes, materials and objects. As well as understanding the Non-expert on a conceptual level, capturing my baby’s interactions as she acquired her own knowledge of an unknown place through her sense of touch would allow me to develop a practical, transferable toolkit of actions which we could apply to almost anything.

Here is what she did:

And here is a toolkit of actions we might apply as a Non-Expert, all demonstrated in the video:


Immediately, I’m reminded of Richard Serra’s Verb List. Though just a couple of pages of Serra’s sketchbook written in 1967, it might be considered one of the most important artworks of the twentieth century as it tracks the shift away from form (the way an object looks, or the shape it takes) as the dominant critical model by which we analyse an artwork, to also investigating process (the way it’s made).

One of the most important aspects of Verb List is that all of the actions are relatively simple and relatable, having more of a relationship with everyday tasks and everyday materials than with actions we might traditionally associate with art making. New investment in artwork being accessible and attainable is loud and clear. In fact, Serra’s list has many overlaps with my baby’s tactile exploration of her surroundings: drop, scatter and dig, for example. The Non-Expert is not necessarily a new perspective in art making, but remains undeniably relevant as we continue to build material into our critical thinking as well as form and process. 

In my work, I try to be consistent about applying research practically as well as developing ideas conceptually. This means linking them to lived experiences or identifying concrete strategies from my findings which can be used in turn to gain more understanding or raise more questions about materials. The idea of the Non-Expert is a useful one, but becomes even more so as a working methodology, facilitating us to discover more about our surroundings using our own bodies to flick, to squeeze, to scrape, to drop…


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